Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class


-Francis Parkman Prize for the best book in American history, Society of American Historians

-Merle Curti Prize for the Best Book in American Social and Intellectual History from the OAH

-Labor History Best Book Prize, 2011

-Best Book Award from the United Association for Labor Education, 2011


-Choice 2011 Outstanding Academic Title

-Finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Prize for Best Book in Nonfiction

-Finalist for Sidney Hillman Book Journalism Award, 2011


"As a work of history, [Stayin’ Alive] might be the most groundbreaking and original national history of a working class since E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class….this book is required reading for anyone looking to revive working class hopes and alternatives to America’s disastrous love story with capitalism.”

-Steven Colatrella, New Politics

An epic account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, Stayin’ Alive is a wide-ranging cultural and political history that will forever redefine a misunderstood decade.

Prizewinning historian Jefferson Cowie’s edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film and TV lore–reveals America’s fascinating and little understood path from the rising incomes and optimism of the New Deal to the widening economic inequalities and deflated 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, connecting politics and culture, and showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the 1960s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. Cowie 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.

Stayin’ Alive captures nothing less than the defining characteristics of a new era—a history with profound relevance for our own time.

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"If you want to understand how we got here — how the Democrats’ New Deal coalition shattered in the 1970s, and why progressives are still picking the shrapnel out of their political hides — you must read Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class….” “one of the best books of 2010.”

-Joan Walsh,

…so fresh, fertile and real that the only thing it resembles is itself…You just have to read it. It establishes its author as one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience….Cowie’s accomplishment is to convey what this epic cheat felt like from the inside.”

-Rick Perlstein, The Nation

...the book that gives the best sense of the way that it felt to live through the decade—the confusion, desperation, and anxiety, but also at times the exhilaration—is Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive…..Cowie’s book captures the contradictory nature of 1970s politics better than almost any other ever written about the period."

-Kim Phillips-Fein, Dissent

...will long stand as the finest and most sophisticated portrait of politics and culture in the American 1970s, and also as a model for how to talk about both political and cultural transformations without shortchanging either….Cowie makes understanding his goal and condescension his enemy.”

-E.J. Dionne, columnist, Washington Post

"...Its awards are richly deserved. Cowie’s book rests on mountainous research. It is beautifully written, and informed by a deeply humane sensibility. It weaves an elegant narrative of class, culture, and politics that will attract many young scholars to labor history. Indeed, more than any book in recent memory, Stayin’ Alive shows that in the right hands labor history can connect to politically engaged audiences beyond the cloistered precincts of academia, and make for stimulating, even exciting reading...the book resembles another trend-setting tome to which at least one other reviewer has already compared it: E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963). The comparison is apt....That Cowie’s book merits the comparison in the first place is enough to highlight its astonishing achievement."

Joseph McCartin, Journal of Social History