"You’re laughing at a loser, a loser because of his misconceptions. [A]ll these things are a threat to his life . . . [a] life in the United States is no longer livable for him, for Archie Bunker." —ACTOR CARROLL O’CONNOR, ON HIS MOST FAMOUS CHARACTER
An epic account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the ’70s, Stayin’ Alive is a wide-ranging cultural and political history that presents the decade in a whole new light. Jefferson Cowie’s edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film, and TV lore—makes new sense of the ’70s as a crucial and poorly understood transition from the optimism of New Deal America to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present.
Stayin’ Alive takes us from the factory floors of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to the Washington of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Cowie connects politics to culture, showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help us understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the ’60s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. He also makes unexpected connections between the secrets of the Nixon White House and the failings of the George McGovern campaign, between radicalism and the blue-collar backlash, and between the earthy twang of Merle Haggard’s country music and the falsetto highs of Saturday Night Fever.
Cowie captures nothing less than the defining characteristics of a new era. Stayin’ Alive is a book that will forever define a misunderstood decade.
Jefferson Cowie is an associate professor of history at Cornell University. He is the author of Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor (The New Press), which received the Philip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History for 2000.