The Other Eighties A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan

Bradford Martin

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

Bradford Martin illuminates a different 1980s from the one many remember—one whose history has been buried under the celebratory narrative of conservative ascendancy. Ronald Reagan looms large in most accounts of the period, encouraging Americans to renounce the activist and liberal politics of the 1960s and '70s and embrace the resurgent conservative wave. But a closer look reveals that a sizable swath of Americans strongly disapproved of Reagan's policies throughout his presidency. With a weakened Democratic Party scurrying for the political center, many expressed their dissatisfaction outside electoral politics.

Unlike the civil rights and Vietnam era protesters, activists of the 1980s often found themselves on the defensive, struggling to preserve the hard-won victories of the previous era. Their successes, then, were not in ushering in a new era of progressive reforms but in effecting change in areas from professional life to popular culture, while beating back an even more forceful political shift to the right. Martin paints an indelible portrait of these and other influential, but often overlooked, movements: from on-the-ground efforts to constrain the administration's aggressive Latin American policy and stave off a possible Nicaraguan war, to mock shanties constructed on college campuses to shed light on corporate America's role in supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa. The result is a clearer, richer perspective on a turbulent decade in American life.


Praise for The Other Eighties

"In arguing for a 1980s that not only didn't uniformly embrace the superficial conformity of the Reagan years but actively laid groundwork for today's progressive movements, Martin does valuable work."—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

"Bradford Martin's fascinating and extensively researched book will take you on a revelatory trip to the other side of Reagan's 1980s."—Judith E. Smith, Professor of American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston

"The best history is that which looks beneath the surface of an era to discover what was happening on the lower frequencies. Readers seeking a richer, more complete understanding of the Age of Reagan should start here."—Robert Widell, Assistant Professor of History, University of Rhode Island

"In this provocative and persuasive book, Bradford Martin challenges the prevailing portrait of the 1980s as an era of a conservative ascendancy. Focusing on a wide range of social and political actors—AIDS activists, the divestment movement, welfare rights organizers, post-punk performers and their audiences—Martin constructs an alternative portrait of eighties political culture. An original and thoughtful book, The Other Eighties is sure to prompt significant reconsideration of this crucial period in recent United States history."—Bruce J. Schulman, author of The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics

"Other than Sean Wilentz's The Age of Reagan, Martin has created the first major historical work on this crucial decade. The Other Eighties is much needed opening salvo in a serious discussion about the role of dissent in this era . . . A new and exciting interpretation of this decade that successfully challenges what we think we know."—W. Scott Poole, PopMatters

"Before history reduces the 1980s to Reagan, Rambo, and MTV, Bradford Martin has provided a bracing and much-needed chronicle of the decade's oppositional culture. With grace and clarity, The Other Eighties reveals the accomplishments, limitations, and legacy of the era's often-overlooked political and social activists."—Alan Light, former editor-in-chief, Vibe and Spin magazines

"Bradford Martin's pathbreaking history of cultural and political opposition in the 1980s challenges the simplistic narrative of a ‘Reagan Revolution.' His concise, punchy use of primary sources to document big events like the Freeze, anti-Apartheid, and grunge will be hard to ignore. The Other Eighties shows how the ‘long sixties' were even longer than many of us realized."—Van Gosse, author of Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretative History

"A readable stroll into the bad old days of "Piss Christ" and Jesse Helms—and guaranteed to make you dig up your Black Flag and Minor Threat tapes."—Kirkus Reviews

"Should be required reading for strategists on the left."—David Mulcahey, Bookforum

"Hailed as one of the most popular U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan nonetheless was a very polarizing figure, provoking a backlash against the conservatism he represented. Martin examines the other side of the Reagan era—as the 1980s are commonly regarded—by looking closely at efforts to address social problems at home and abroad. He highlights individuals who supported and sustained cultural changes, from pro-choice to gay and lesbian rights, student activism, opposition to nuclear arms, and AIDs activism, and how progressive impulses played out through culture. He begins by focusing on grassroots activism on issues including the nuclear freeze movement and goes on to offer case studies of the cultural impact of opposition to conservatism, including the social consciousness of pop culture reflected by movies and music. In a separate section, he focuses on changes in group politics as African Americans, feminists, and gays pushed back against conservative backlash. Martin makes no claim to be totally comprehensive but presents an interesting counterpoint to the notion of the 1980s as a period of conservatism and traditionalism."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"A valuable picture of the complex political cross-currents that swirled in a decade too often seen simplistically as 'Morning in America.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


The Nuclear Freeze Campaign

On June 12, 1982, children and octogenerians were on the march. So were World War II veterans and Tibetans for World Peace. Coretta Scott King and the Bread...

Read the full excerpt


  • Bradford Martin

  • Bradford Martin is an associate professor of history at Bryant University in Rhode Island. He is the author of The Theater Is in the Street: Politics and Public Performance in Sixties America.

  • Bradford Martin © Paula Hogan