Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the “Rocking, Socking” Election of 1952 (2012)



The book that C-Span had to apologize for:

“Mattson’s excellent book is a timely companion to the current election season.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Mattson’s portrait of a crusading, emotional Nixon on the verge of victory colors in all the campaign’s background details, including relevant pop culture detours and digressions,from Hedda Hopper and Lucille Ball to the hole in Adlai Stevenson’s shoe.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mattson’s book will appeal to historians, politicians, politics buffs, and those interested in the impact of television on the electorate.” —Library Journal

“Mattson, the author of six fine books on politics and intellectual history, contends that the speech transformed not only the 1952 election but also American political culture...

Eisenhower and Nixon’s 1952 campaign was an important contributor to unfortunate development[s for which] we are still paying the price... today.” —Boston Globe


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                   “What the Heck are You Up To, Mr. President?”: Jimmy Carter, America ’s “Malaise,” and the Speech That Should Have Changed the Country (2009) 


“Exactly what political history ought to be – incisive, fast-paced, and fun to read.”— Matt Bai , New York Times Book Review.


“In his new book, Kevin Mattson, a professor of history at Ohio University lays out the events of that summer like a big, rolling banquet… the historical ingredients are fascinating

and first-rate…Mr. Mattson writes well about Mr. Carter’s staff and the intense jockeying that led up to the malaise speech.”— Dwight Garner , New York Times. 


“Despite a brief bump in the president's approval ratings, the address became forever disparaged as the "malaise" speech, and it doomed Carter's reelection chances. That speech, history has concluded, was a huge mistake. Ohio University historian Kevin Mattson challenges that conclusion in his feisty new book…Chronicling the mood inside the White House and across the nation in the months surrounding the speech -- months when gas lines and Three Mile Island monopolized the news while "The Deer Hunter" and "disco sucks!" dominated the zeitgeist -- Mattson offers a radically different reading [of the speech]…”— Carlos Lozada , Washington Post 


"Excellent...Mattson's faith in the ­significance of popular culture is both refreshing and right on the mark. It’s about time someone found Blondie as important as Barbara Tuchman...those of us who were around back in the day will be ruefully reminded of those bygone times. And those who weren’t will be scratching their heads in disbelief at this fascinating and frequently improbable history."—Frank Gannon, Wall Street Journal.

"In many ways, none of them subtle, Mattson's slim, tightly packed narrative is as much a study of burgeoning media power as presidential oratory."— Los Angeles Times.


 “Mattson makes Carter’s maligned speech a touchstone for a rich retrospective and backhanded appreciation of the soul-searching ’70s.”—Publishers Weekly


“Mattson fully renders the motley array of Carter’s ‘Georgia Mafia,’ along with countless details of this turbulent era in American history. A galloping history full of interesting characters and significant moments.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This book becomes a page-turner for those interested in the decadent disco decade, Jimmy Carter himself, and the modern presidency.”—Library Journal


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Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America (2008) 


"Mattson has pulled off a difficult task: a highly readable, concise yet meaty analysis of the conservative ascendancy focusing on the style and arguments of its public intellectuals."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A slim, scathing study...passionate, the conservatives he so effectively skewers, Mattson is best on the offensive."—Publishers Weekly

"Mattson's account of the contemporary American "conservative mind" is provocative and persuasive. Concise and lively, Mattson's book will appeal to readers seeking a general introduction to American conservatism, and to scholars interested in new ways of engaging the conservative political vision. Highly recommended."—CHOICE

“This is a brilliantly irreverent study of a shrewdly irreverent movement.  Kevin Mattson, one of our finest historians of liberalism, captures the ties that bind William F. Buckley to Ann Coulter, and he does so with a light touch that even his subjects should admire.”-Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero and The Populist Persuasion 

Rebels All! became a main selection of the History Book Club. 

To buy the book, follow this link at





Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century (2006)


 "From the meat-packing houses of Chicago to the automobile factories of Detroit to the voting booths of California , Upton Sinclair cut a wide swath as a muckraking writer who exposed the injustices rendered by American industrial capitalism. Now Kevin Mattson presents a much-needed exploration of this complex crusader. This is a thoughtful, provocative, and gripping account of an important figure who appeared equal parts intellectual, propagandist, and political combatant as he struggled to illuminate the ‘other American Century’ inhabited by the poor and powerless."

-Steven Watts, author of The People's Tycoon, Henry Ford and the American Century and The Magic Kingdom : Walt Disney and the American Way of Life.

"A splendid read. It reminds you that real heroes once dwelt among us. Mattson not only captures Sinclair's character, but the world he inhabited, with deft strokes whose energy and passion easily match his subject's."

-Richard Parker, author of John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics

To buy the book, follow this link at




When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism (2004; reissued in second edition, 2006)


“A learned, provocative case for the sound, reflective cause of liberalism in our age of unchallenged conservatism.”

–John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History and author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left

”Kevin Mattson is one of the foremost historians reminding us of the forgotten importance of midcentury liberal values in the United States . This well-written volume is a valuable study of key thinkers at the time, most of whom have yet to receive such gifted assessment. Mattson's book arrives at an opportune time because some of the issues facing the liberals in this book are similar to what is being faced by Americans today: how best to preserve liberal freedom in the face of illiberal threats both from abroad and within.”

–Neil Jumonville, William Warren Rogers Professor of History, Florida State University and the author of Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Postwar America

”Kevin Mattson's When America Was Great demands our attention. His liberals – Niebuhr, Schlesinger, Galbraith, and others – fought for reform and a vital center against the conservatism of the postwar years. Mattson chronicles the programs, ideas, and personalities, without ignoring the problems, of these often-underappreciated liberals. Most importantly, his liberal tradition promises to be both relevant and necessary for us today.”  –George Cotkin, Author of Existential America

”Thought-provoking and important, this work challenges us to reexamine what we were, what we have lost, and where we wish to go as a nation. If liberalism has become a dirty word in today's politics, Mattson demonstrates how the liberalism of the post-World War II generation shaped the course of American and world history, placing the United States at the center of world affairs.” Library Journal

”An invaluable new study.” -Eric Alterman, The Nation

  “When America Was Great is a key document in the new appreciation of the postwar anti-communist liberals,” -Mark Schmitt, The American Prospect 

“A timely look at a generation of post-second world war liberal thinkers…  Mattson provides a service by thoughtfully reintroducing these thinkers to a new generation.”

-Ron Brownstein, Financial Times 

“Writing with both insight and passion, Kevin Mattson invites us to reconsider the intellectual life of the years between World War II and the late Sixties.  Along the way, he gets us started on a project that is long overdue: Liberalism without shame.”

-Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas ?

To buy the book, follow this link at




Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002)


“By recovering the political ideas and commitments of this important group of left intellectuals working as intellectuals, he invites contemporary intellectuals into a workshop of political change. At a moment when liberalism again seems exhausted, it is a timely and important book." - Thomas Bender , New York University

"A novel and revealing view of the early New Left as democratic intellectuals in search of a public." -Leon Fink, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Kevin Mattson's new book is a superb and inspiring account of the sixties as a moment of public intellectual engagement. Mattson interprets New Left debates as continuous with earlier debates about the meaning of American democracy and the possibilities of a radical liberalism. His book is more than a history. For it seeks to remind us of the strengths and limits of New Left discourse so as to inform our own democratic engagements in the present."-Jeffrey C. Isaac , Indiana University

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Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era (1998) 


(And if you couldn’t figure it out, this was my dissertation for graduate school, with a few cuts made):

"Ultimately Mattson challenges readers to reconsider contemporary conceptions of democracy that view citizens as consumers, and he contributes to contemporary discussions of ways to invigorate democratic practice. Highly recommended for all readership levels."  -Choice

"In an era of quickening concern about citizenship and community in contemporary America , we have a lot to learn from the community-building activities of Progressive Era reformers. Kevin Mattson's instructive account of their successes and failures is a timely contribution."  -Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University

"The Progressive Era was filled with the rhetoric of democracy, but in recent years historians have found the meaning of progressivism rather in various hierarchies of power. Kevin Mattson's considerable accomplishment in this fine book is to recover the era's emergent democratic public and its localized activities, from adult education to political meetings. Mattson's openly committed history is important for its more complicated rendering of progressive democracy, for its elaboration of a lively public culture, and for the encouragement it offers to the project of participatory democracy."  -Thomas Bender , New York University

"Kevin Mattson's book recovers one of the most important moments in the history of genuinely democratic reform in American history. A major contribution to the rethinking of progressivism, this book also offers a usable past to those struggling in the present to render our politics and culture more democratic."

-Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester


To buy the book, follow this link at



                                                                    CO-AUTHORED or EDITED BOOKS:



The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (2012)

Co-authored with Eric Alterman

“Thorough and thoughtful.” -Kirkus Reviews 

“So many books lately on the rise of the Right, but here, finally, is a history of postwar liberalism. Media critic, political columnist (e.g., The Nation), CUNY journalism professor, and best-selling author (e.g., Why We’re Liberal), Alterman joins with Ohio University professor Mattson to define liberalism through the individuals who have shaped it over the last decades. Important for current events readers except in really red states."  -Library Journal 

“[A]n illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume.”  -Publishers Weekly


“[Eric] Alterman and [Kevin] Mattson present an impressive history.”  -Library Journal 

The Cause is at its best in its deft articulation of the inseparability of liberalism’s strengths and weaknesses.”  -Yale Alumni Magazine 

The Cause provides an ample arsenal of information to remind liberals that theirs is the side of virtue.”  -The History News Network 


To buy the book, follow this link at





Liberalism for a New Century, edited with Neil Jumonville (2007)

Co-written and co-edited with Neil Jumonville


“Here, finally, the collection we’ve been waiting for – thoughtful, lively essays on the relevance of liberalism for this new century some of its keenest observers.”

-Robert Reich, President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

A fine description from

“American liberalism today is in a state of confusion and disarray, with the "L word" widely considered a term of derision. By examining both the historical past and the fractious present, Liberalism for a New Century restores a proud political tradition and carves out a formidable defense of its philosophical tenets. This manifesto for a New Liberalism issues an urgent and cogent call for the most important rethinking of its values since the late 1960s, when conservatives reenergized themselves after Barry Goldwater's infamous loss. The essays in this volume, most of them never before published, are written by a leading group of historians, journalists, and public intellectuals. Some of the nation's most highly respected liberal minds explore such topics as the classical liberal tradition, postmodernism's challenge to the American "Enlightenment," the civil rights era, the influence of twentieth-century radicals on American liberalism, the 1950s, tolerance, the cold war, and whether liberalism should have a large and aggressive vision. One essay considers liberalism in Iran and what American liberals might learn from this movement. Fast-paced and encompassing such hot-button issues as the family and religion, here are ringside-seat arguments between people who don't often get to engage with one another: right-leaning liberals like Peter Berkowitz and John Patrick Diggins, and leftier liberals like Michael Tomasky and Mona Harrington. The result is a lively and stimulating collection that articulates a clear-minded alternative to the conservative ascendancy in American history and offers a timely and essential contribution to the growing national debate.” 

To buy the book, follow this link at




Steal This University!: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement (2003)

Co-written and co-edited with Benjamin Johnson and Patrick Kavanagh


"Anyone with an interest in the future of American higher education will benefit from reading this collection of provocative and often brilliant essays. There are lucid and cogent analyses of the excessive and often corrupt influence of corporations on curricula and research, profiteering by academic entrepreneurs, the imposition of a demonstrably flawed corporate structure on the academy, and the overuse and abuse of poorly paid contingent faculty. The volume concludes with a call to recapture the university for the good of our students and our society."
–Jane Buck, Ph.D., National President, American Association of University Professors

"The strength of the book is in the very readable essays of those authors who are working as or are organizing graduate asssistants, adjunct faculty, or tenure-track faculty. It is an accessible anthology for undergraduates as well as graduate students....this volume has a great deal to offer."
–Journal of Higher Education


To buy the book, follow this link at




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