any a young person has moved to New York to make their mark as
a writer, only to join the ranks of waiters and waitresses. Mequon
native Rick Perlstein, on the other hand, will probably never find
himself working for tips. He has published in Lingua Franca, The Nation, The
Village Voice and The American
Prospect—and that’s just for starters.
book “Before the Storm: The 1964 Barry Goldwater
Campaign and American
Culture” is set to be published in the spring by
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
The book grew out of an article he wrote titled “Who Owns the Sixties as
well as a book review of a work titled Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace,
described by Perlstein as a literary event in 1996.
Important people are saying complimentary things of Perlstein. David
Kennedy, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for history, wrote, Perlsteins
book is a must read for anyone interested in the intertwined fates of
conservatism and liberalism in the politics of the last half-century. Theres
no reason to disagree.
Perlstein seems to have caught the front car on the uptown express train
when it comes to his favorite subject: revisionist history of the turbulent
1960s. Before the Storm is not a sympathetic portrayal of a man defeated
in his bid to become president of the United States. Putting it archly,
Perlstein studies Goldwater, Nixon and other conservatives to understand
the enemy. One of his theses is that the Goldwater camp, though missing
a stint in the White House, set in motion events and thinking that led to
what Perlstein considers a right wing ascendence in everything from
ultra-conservative, religious and political ideas, to the dismantling of welfare.
Perlstein came to New York in 1994, after earning a bachelors degree at
the University of Chicago and attending graduate school at the University of
Michigan working toward an American Cultural Studies degree. He is the son
of Sandi and Jerry Perlstein, recently retired owners of Bonded Messenger
Service. The Perlsteins have raised three other creative children: Linda, a
writer for the Washington Post; Ben, who has his own jazz band known in
Milwaukee as The Benjamins, and Steve, a publisher. They grew up in the
Bayside and Fox Point areas and attended Nicolet High School.
Perlstein, like most writers, is a voracious reader. Especially high on his list
are political books. He begins with American Earthquake: A Chronicle of the
Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, & the Dawn of the New Deal by
Edmund Wilson. Two contemporary works read are Blood of the Liberals
by George Packer and The Other America by Michael Harrington.
Since politics is always somehow aligned with one market theory or
another, he reads non-fiction like Thomas Franks One Market Under
Godand Juliet Schors The Overspent American. He also likes Robert Lane,
author of The Decline of Happiness in Market Democracies. Robert Franks
recent book Luxury Fever is another recommendation.
Perlstein vs Goldwater
Work called political must-read
Story and photography by Judith Steininger
Mequon native Rick Perlstein: important people are saying complimentary things.
He has completed Philip Roths The Human Stain, a fictional study of
how the fabric of a university is rent by racial speech. Not willing to
commit himself to an all out endorsement of Saul Bellow, despite his being
a Nobel laureate, Perlstein recently read Ravelstein, a thinly disguised novel
about Bellows nemesis Allan Bloom, a one time colleague of Bellows at the
University of Chicago. He also read James Atlas Bellow: A Biography.
Perlstein describes it as a literary dust off in New York. Translation? If you
like notoriety, a dust off is a good thing.
His absolutely favorite book is Moby Dick by Herman Melville because
of Melvilles gentle pedagogical tone. With a grin, Perlstein said he could
commiserate with a statement Melville made that dollars damn me, which
proves that some conditions aspiring writers and struggling artists suffer
through never change.
Two other novels he likes, albeit from widely separated eras, are the
Victorian George Eliots Middlemarch and contemporary Cynthia Ozicks
The Puttermesser Papers. The latter Perlstein describes as a dark, comic
tale about the New York Civil Service.
Hes been known to write serious articles for and hang out with the
intelligentsia at the Village Voice, and he says tell them I love
Perlstein lives in Brooklyns Park Slope section, a neighborhood full of
writers like Paul Auster (author of 34 books including Music of Chance, a
novel, and Art of Hunger, non-fiction about writing) and assorted
wannabes. Perlstein wrote a charming vignette for the New Yorker Magazine
(Sept. 25, 2000) about a young, Turkish medical students attempts to meet
the reclusive Auster in Park Slope.
Perlstein also continues to play jazz piano describing himself as a Sunday
duffer now, but, with a laugh, recalls his glory days playing a bar in
Milwaukee called The Virginian.
We were really big with the Marquette crowd, he recalls.