Mixed Review: “Fault Lines” By Kruse And Zelizer

July 31, 2021

It’s not often that I give mixed reviews, I usually select books that I am truly interested in. Additionally, I rarely quit reading a book I intend to review, but that’s exactly what I did with this book.

I initially really wanted to read this book to reinforce my reckoning of news from my teen years – the 1970’s. At the time I was so distracted with sports, cars and girls that I didn’t pay close attention to many current events of that pivotal era.

In “Fault Lines – A History of the United States Since 1974” authors Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer attempt the impossible; to capsulize over fifty years of complex history in under 400 pages.
To be fair, that is a seemingly unachievable task. Kruse and Zelizer are both Princeton University professors, and this book appears to be a companion to a course they teach on the same subject.

On the plus side, I found many interesting tidbits that I had either forgotten or overlooked in my teen years, but that’s just what they are – tidbits.
For instance, the bulk of reporting on The Iran-Contra Affair, the worst constitutional crisis since Watergate consists of three pages. The disastrous attack on civilians at Waco Texas takes an entire three paragraphs. The 9/11 attacks, and all the dark secrets embedded within, are a whopping three-plus pages.
References to the CIA appear on four pages. Four stinkin’ references.

To give you a comparison, the section on the “religious right”, while a huge influence as well as a puppet, spans seven pages. Related pages do flesh that out a bit more, at the expense of the above-mentioned events. Censorship and pornography is covered in eight pages. Did these issues outweigh the 9/11 attacks? The constant meddling of the CIA?

The more I read, the more this account of recent American history seemed like an abbreviated Wikipedia page, with significant details of many events left buried, untouched.
It was ultimately frustrating, as I knew many twists and turns that should have been mentioned, were simply left out or avoided.

Despite my annotating and underlining various issues of importance, I was dismayed that some of the darkest aspects of recent historical events never made the page.
By page 260, with nearly 100 pages to go, I wrote “Done with this book” on the page and set it down.

I don’t know if I was more disappointed in myself for giving up on this one, or in Kruse and Zelizer for providing a “CliffsNotes” version of history.

All-in-all, this book probably did just as intended.
It provides an establishment narrative, limited in scope, so Princeton students can believe they know what the hell happened and be ferried off to their cookie-cutter jobs at the top of American society.

It probably happens in every university.

John Titus

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