Cover Image: When America Stopped Being Great

When America Stopped Being Great

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Member Reviews

I really wanted to like this one. As much as I tried I just could not get into it and did not finish reading it.
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Like many I am sure I spent the last few years peeking through my fingers at Twitter and the news wondering what the heck was going on.
This book was really helpful in explaining the differences in the UK and the US and just how something like Trump could happen.
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I read about 50 pages of this book and realised that if you've read one book about American politics, you've read them all. I'm sure if you're not familiar with this kind of book then you'd like it, but I realised that every time I pick up one of these books I'm just reading another opinion on the same thing over and over and over. This isn't something I want to read about any more but I am grateful for the opportunity to try it. I have not left any reviews online.
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Nick Bryant discusses how America went from having a solid democracy with cross-party collaboration to a dysfunctional nation ruled with the mindset of tribal adolescents. He follows American politics of the past 50 years, praising and admonishing each President on their actions and how they affected the trajectory of American politics. Many of the problems discussed also relate to other nations and aren’t specific to America, such as the consolidation of businesses and how that effects communities, especially in the media world, and how the dumbing down of society causes a rejection of science and reasoned debate.

This book focuses on the political decline, but I found it reads well with Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire”, which tackles society and religion with equal quality of research

This is very well written – incredible writing with phenomenal research, though the first few sections were often too dense with facts, and not enough commentary, making it feel like reading an encyclopedia entry rather than an analysis. Likewise in the first few chapters, the flowery language often distracted from the message – phrases such as ‘the president triangulating with Pythagorean glee’, while nice takes you away from the prose.

An excellent book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in politics.
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Recent history of the USA particularly through the prism of current (Trump) and past presidents.
Well thought out and written, looking at the ‘cults’ who voted in unlikely presidents. Each possessing their own experiences and flaws. 
I learnt a lot from this book about USA presidents and the people who voted for them.
Having lived through the Trump years I am glad this period is finally over.
4 Stars ⭐️ 
Thanks to #Netgalley for allowing me to read this book in return for a fair review
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This book is essential reading for those seeking answers to the conundrum that is Donald J. Trump. It is balanced and rational and doesn't shy away from criticising those who have held the office of US President - including Trump's direct predecessor, Barack Obama - and the flawed campaign of Hillary Clinton, who '...clearly could not countenance the notion that the world’s most important job interview could possibly end with someone so manifestly unqualified being appointed.'

The fact that it did should not detract from Trump's achievement, nor should we seek to denigrate those who elected him. Democracy will have its way - even when the results shock us, there is always an underlying cause.

So many of us were confused, probably mystified, by Trump's election as American President in 2016. How could a man considered narcissistic, misogynistic, and racist by so many secure the political mandate of millions of his fellow Americans?

This book goes a long way to explaining why - and how - Donald Trump became President, by putting his presidency in the context of what went before. Nick Bryant's pin-sharp understanding of the American political system clearly delineates a timeline from Ronald Reagan forwards to the present day. Trump's rise was legitimised by what preceded him:

'Though Ronald Reagan took 16 years to achieve what Donald Trump managed in a little over 16 months, America’s first movie-star president laid the path for America’s first reality-TV-star president.'

The other thing to bear in mind is, as Bryant points out, ‘In all personality cults, followers can be blind to the flaws of their idols.’ And Trump had plenty, yet is still revered by his supporters, convinced to this day the 2020 election was fraudulent despite clear evidence to the contrary.

'Trump possessed the great skill of populists and demagogues down the ages: to articulate the fears and prejudices of voters better than they could themselves, and also to offer simplistic solutions…'. This was his mantra, and it worked because 'he grasped that the future in politics belonged to those who generated their own content.’

‘Often history only reveals itself in hindsight, but it should not have come as such a shock that an era of disruptive technology would produce such a disruptive president; that an anti-Obama party selected as its nominee the most virulently anti-Obama candidate; than an anti-Washington conservative movement would back an obstreperously anti-Washington outsider; that an older and whiter GOP would pick the oldest white man in the field; that a country where racial divisions had actually widened under its first black president would pick such a racially divisive demagogue; that a nation which had witnessed such a massive redistribution of the wealth upwards would end up being run by a billionaire; that a screen- and social-media-addicted populace afflicted by so much online narcissism would plump for a narcissist; that a polity fed up with politics would select such an avowed antipolitician; that a superpower whose influence had waned over the course of the twenty-first century would pick a strongman promising to make America great again.’

Politics in America has increasingly become polarised along party lines, but ‘…Trump instantly became the most polarising president of them all…For blue America he was a national embarrassment. Much of red America, though, still saw him as a national saviour.’

In the end, what undid the Trump presidency was a pandemic and his failure to handle it. Then, when he lost out to Joe Biden, he refused to accept the outcome, leading to the shocking scenes of insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington.

According to Bryant: 'Greatness will never be this country’s defining characteristic while so many of its compatriots are at loggerheads; when mistrust, dislike and hatred are the drivers of politics; when the spirit of joint endeavour is displaced by the venom and even nihilism that now pervades so many aspects of national life.’

Donald J. Trump's impact on his country and its political life will be felt for some time to come.

I was sent an advance review copy of this book by Bloomsbury Publishing, in return for an honest appraisal.
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A timely and very accessibly written history explaining why America has got to where it is now, and why. Really insightful and a great read. I'm familiar with a lot of the facts, but the analysis which explains the unexpected and yet inevitable rise of Donald Trump is clear and well argued.
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Nick Bryant has, by confession, had a love affair with the United States since his teenage years and as a student and then a political correspondent has lived in the country on and off for decades. H ere he takes a look at the political landscape from the mid-1980s to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  Alongside this he places the politics into the backdrop of the social and economic zeitgeist and how they have danced around each other.  I found the book particularly interesting in terms of the long game in American politics, how Trump's life and career echoed the bigger picture of American society and also the view that Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 election 20 years earlier.
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Incredibly well-researched and well referenced. Covers a wide range of issues in such a succinct and comprehensible way.

Writes with humour and in a very charming fashion. Manages to provide a wealth of information without coming across as condescending.

Not in total agreement, eg with the comments on the left and Obama's response to Syria, but enjoyed the narrative all the same.

I learned a lot from this book and found that it really had me thinking and chellenging some of my own points of view.
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Excellent, authoritative analysis of how America is now politically and how it got there. Up to date and very clear-sighted, but also accessible. I learned a lot and highly recommend this book.
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A very readable analysis of modern American politics.  

Ultimately the book argues that Trump is a symptom and result of the last 50 years of US politics.  Starting with Reagan, Bryant argues very successfully that decisions made by former Presidents and political parties have resulted in the presidency of Trump, and all he represented.  It explores well the impact of changing voting patterns for each party, and crucially the impact of falling white dominance had on party voting bases, and the policies they parties pursued.

I thought analysis for less recent presidents was more 'accurate'.  Particularly some of the critiques of Obama I don't think are fair, but I would be interested to see how history treats his presidency.  Bush junior has definitely benefited well from time, whilst Clinton has not been remembered kindly.

You definitely have to have some interest and knowledge of US politics to read this book.  I would say I was a follower of current affairs, but I have never studied American political institutions.  I also know of Reagan, but was born during his term, and in the UK.  So my knowledge stems from historical analysis rather than a real time memory of living it.  The first president I feel like I remember as a personal memory is George W.

Overall a really interesting read.
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This is a really engaging analysis of how the past of America lead to the present troubles. I've read a lot about this recently and yet I found a lot of new information in this presented clearly and interestingly.
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Thoughtful analysis of America’s greatness loss, Reagan to Trump

Nick Bryant’s clearly written, thoughtful account begins with his first visit to America as a teenager, clearly smitten with the country. And already charting its decline from some of what he was smitten with.

He bookends Reagan with Trump in terms of them both being ‘celebrities’ who came to the office because their celebrity delivered for them. Reagan was of course better at playing the role than the recently departed aberration, but neither came from an understanding of political service.

Not that a long history in knowing how to play the game gets a clean bill of ethical health either. There is also a long dissatisfaction with career politicians, both in America and in this country, and in both societies a widening of who gains and who loses.

What most surprised me was that the politician he was most admiring of, in terms of his actions on domestic, rather than foreign affairs, was the one term president George H. Bush, whom he saw as far more quietly statesmanlike, and able to work consensually with Democrats as well as his own party, than others. A large part of losing ‘greatness’ being precisely because Party now matters more than country, and that has gathered pace dramatically, reaching its nadir with the last incumbent

Are there signs of some hope in that the present incumbent is certainly someone with the desire to build bridges with those who can see beyond ‘what is good for my party getting back into power/keeping in power’ and what is good for the whole?. Pragmatism, negotiation and a levelling up of those most disadvantaged

I received this eagerly as an ARC. Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley
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I learnt so much from reading this. It’s clear, insightful and factual. It provided a lot of context for politics in the last few years and a well thought out prediction for the future.
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Enjoyed this immensely, yet it also troubled me. Populations just seem to respond to political soundbites circulated on a cyclical basis. Politically we haven't evolved in the sense that we develop policies for the benefit of all, but rather self interest. This book shows how easy it was to manipulate and appeal to peoples fears in Reagan's time, Trump with the access he had to 24 hr media, affiliated news networks and social media, was always destined to succeed. The same is happening in the UK, substance and competence count for little as we lurch from one event to another. We are being bombarded with soundbites/talking heads/ and opinions/ its almost overbearing, to the point that we take no time to drill down into one event, and hold people to account. In this book it even mentioned the positive memory Americans had of Ron, when in fact he was a showman, focused on the sparkle and didn't do policy... Yesterday, we had the British PM say   "The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends". Which just confirms much of what Nick Bryant wrote about in this book. It seems we have become a society that knows "the cost of everything, but the value of nothing" Highly recommend. Thank you.
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I learnt a lot from this book - it’s extremely rich on fact and detail and helped trace a path to where the US is now. I’d say in places it felt a little bit like it had lost its flow, but I’m being picky there.
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Review! Nick Bryant: When America Stopped Being Great 🇱🇷


I have never been so hungry for books on recent history and this is a very timely, well-researched and accessible piece of work, taking us all the way up to the capital riots. 

The book's title may make it seem part of the anti-Trump genre but it's richer and more objective than that. 

@nickbryantnyc takes us on a journey through the facts and spirit of each presidency since Reagan, exploring their impacts on the people of America/the world. This is all nicely interwoven with Bryant's personal experiences in the US as a journalist, and living in NYC during the pandemic. 

The best books on the near-past create a linear narrative, threading together events into a coherent plot which help to make sense of the direction we are moving in- and this book does just that. 

It's a strange reality that if this were fiction the narrative might almost feel too neat. 

Bryant's plot is one of increasing polarisation and a decreasingly effective government. 

He outlines  how the style of the presidency has changed, but I learnt most from exploring the different governing priorities of each generation and how the demands of the electorate have changed over time. 
I believe the UK is following a similar plot, so it was doubly insightful! I really didn't want it to end! 

For me, books like this help to generate hope. By reflecting and assessing, we can best work out how to move forward and flip back into a plot full of hope and unity.
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When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present is a comprehensive and richly-detailed analysis of the political, economic, cultural and technological factors that contributed to America’s decline and inadvertently paved the way for Trump’s presidency. Nick Bryant is the BBC's New York correspondent, holds a doctorate in American politics and has had his finger on the pulse of American politics for decades. He fell in love with New York when he first visited in the 1980s when it was the USA's heyday of power and self-confidence. He once considered becoming a US citizen, but now he wonders if the nation brought low by income inequality, substance abuse, falling life expectancy, and gun violence, is in an irreversible state of decline. He posits that the presidency of Donald Trump is commonly seen as an historical accident, but that by 2016 it had become almost historically inescapable. In this highly personal account, drawing on decades of covering Washington for the BBC, Bryant shows how the billionaire capitalised on the mistakes of his five predecessors – Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and how also he became a beneficiary of a broken politics, an iniquitous economy, an ailing media, a facile culture, disruptive new technology and the creation of a modern-day presidency that elevated showmanship over statesmanship.

Not only are we starting to see the emergence of a post-American world, Bryant fears we are witnessing the emergence of a post-American America. The history of Trump’s rise is also the history of America’s fall – we witnessing America’s post-millennial decline, but also the country's disintegration. The aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when Donald Trump refused to accept defeat and incited his supporters to storm the US Capitol, and the Black Lives Matter protests have revealed more about the country’s chronic state of disunion than any other events in recent years. This is at once a fascinating and unsettling account of the gradual decline of America as the land of plenty and the countless anecdotes Bryant uses to illustrate his points are not only well thought out but engaging too. He explores how the ‘American dream’, ebbed away as successive Presidents allowed the divisions in the ‘United States’ to become so apparent again. So much of the country was being left behind economically and technologically as advances were made in the big cities; as standards of living started to fall, the attitude towards immigrants – for so long the driver of the country’s success – became far more negative and exposed the racial problems that stemmed from its slavery trade roots and which had never been fully dealt with. Bryant explains that Trump’s presence on the political stage will still likely loom large for some time and the destructive energy will still be present despite Biden's win. This is a powerful, assured and eye-opening read from start to finish; let's hope we can recover from the past few years as quickly as possible. Highly recommended.
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Right, so in case you hadn't noticed, American politics is confusing as hell and as someone who struggles to keep up with what's happening in the UK let alone across the pond, this book was very much needed. If you thought Trump was the only batshit insane lad taking charge of the USA, then you're in for a wee surprise. 

Starting off with Reagan, this book brings you through presidential history in an easy to understand way. I'm not saying things are dumbed down because they're not, but there's no 'I'm going to lecture the heck out of you' university class vibes coming from this. And that, my friends, is rare in non-fiction. 

Before, I was all like 'how the hell did a guy like Trump get into power?!' Now I get it. 

I tend to avoid non-fiction for the sole reason that I use books to escape real life and not to bring more of its shit into my peaceful little hobby, however, this was needed to plug my ignorance gap. Whilst it's not my usual jam, I feel a little more equipped.

If you've found yourself watching the news recently in a daze, confused about how we got to this state, pick up this book.
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As a non American I really enjoyed this book. It really put into context why we got to the Trump era and the history that lead to that. The book was really engaging and I found it easy to read as a result.
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