The best books on the history of American conservatism

The Books I Picked & Why

Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

By Lisa McGirr

Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

Why this book?

This is a field-defining work. First published in 2001, McGirr’s book prompted a generation of historians to reexamine the rise and evolution of modern American conservatism. Focused on the suburbs of Orange County, California, Suburban Warriors explored how grassroots conservative activists mobilized to reshape the politics of the nation. Through the stories of ordinary people--housewives and defense workers, evangelical worshippers, and anti-communist activists--we learn how the modern American right evolved from a fringe movement into arguably the most powerful political force in the United States.


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Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

By Kim Phillips-Fein

Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

Why this book?

Shifting away from the grassroots origins of modern conservatism, Invisible Hands examines how wealthy, conservative businessmen mobilized to counter the power of organized labor, dismantle the New Deal, and propel the right into political power. Phillips-Fein begins her story in the Depression, as a small set of disgruntled industrialists organized against what they saw as creeping socialism, embodied in FDR’s New Deal. Although marginal at first, these titans of capitalism spent great effort and tremendous sums of money to change the tone and tenor of American politics, convincing many Americans to abandon the promises of economic security for the supposed beneficence of the free market.


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White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

By Kevin M. Kruse

White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Why this book?

The rise of the right was in many ways a southern phenomenon as the Old South transformed into the Sun Belt. White Flight explores how white supremacy and fears over desegregation propelled the conservative movement in Atlanta and on the national stage. As federal initiatives spelled the end for segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, southern whites managed to preserve racial discrimination through more subtle avenues. Whites fled Atlanta’s urban core for its suburbs where they reformed the world of white supremacy, giving birth to new causes such as tax revolts, tuition vouchers, and the privatization of public services.


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Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

By Timothy J. Lombardo

Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

Why this book?

As the modern conservative movement gained ground, many working-class white, ethnic voters, especially in struggling Northern and Midwestern cities joined its ranks, even as they continued to vote for Democrats in local elections. Blue-Collar Conservatism explores how that happened by focusing on the divisive tenure of Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.

Elected as a Democrat in 1971, Rizzo was the first former police commissioner to serve as Philly's mayor, and he gained election by harping on “law and order” issues and opposing civil rights reforms in schools, housing, and workplaces, harnessing white claims that such policies were unearned and unfair. In this cauldron of resentment and resistance, historian Tim Lombardo shows, blue-collar whites began to reject the promises of liberalism.


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Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

By Kathleen Belew

Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

Why this book?

The modern American right also developed distinct paramilitary dimensions. In the wake of the Vietnam War, a militarized white power movement led by veterans spread across the United States. Uniting Klansman, neo-Nazis, tax protesters, and Christian Identitarians, the movement sought war against immigrants, African Americans, leftists, liberals, and, eventually, the government itself.

To carry out those assaults, members circulated ideas and literature, shared money and housing, hoarded weapons and supplies, and practiced combat and counterfeiting. Their violence spread across the country, culminating in Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. In Bring the War Home, historian Kathleen Belew explains how all this happened and what it means today.


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