When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s (Hardcover)

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"John Ganz is the most important young political writer of his generation—just the one our dark moment needs." —Rick Perlstein

"Lively and kaleidoscopic." —Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker

"John Ganz belongs to a species of public intellectual that is almost extinct . . . When the Clock Broke is the first of what I hope will be a shelf of books that help us uncover the true history of our times." —Jeet Heer

A lively, revelatory look back at the convulsions at the end of the Reagan era—and their dark legacy today.


With the Soviet Union extinct, Saddam Hussein defeated, and U.S. power at its zenith, the early 1990s promised a “kinder, gentler America.” Instead, it was a period of rising anger and domestic turmoil, anticipating the polarization and resurgent extremism we know today.

In When the Clock Broke, the acclaimed political writer John Ganz tells the story of America’s late-century discontents. Ranging from upheavals in Crown Heights and Los Angeles to the advent of David Duke and the heartland survivalists, the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and the bitter disputes between neoconservatives and the “paleo-con” right, Ganz immerses us in a time when what Philip Roth called the “indigenous American berserk” took new and ever-wilder forms. In the 1992 campaign, Pat Buchanan's and Ross Perot’s insurgent populist bids upended the political establishment, all while Americans struggled through recession, alarm about racial and social change, the specter of a new power in Asia, and the end of Cold War–era political norms. Conspiracy theories surged, and intellectuals and activists strove to understand the “Middle American Radicals” whose alienation fueled new causes. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton appeared to forge a new, vital center, though it would not hold for long.

In a rollicking, eye-opening book, Ganz narrates the fall of the Reagan order and the rise of a new and more turbulent America.

About the Author


John Ganz writes the widely acclaimed Unpopular Front newsletter for Substack. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Artforum, the New Statesman, and other publications.

Praise For…


"Lively and kaleidoscopic." —Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker

"[A] fascinating shadow story of the 1990s." —Ezra Klein, The Ezra Klein Show

"Lucid and propulsive . . . [When the Clock Broke is] woven throughout with astute analysis of the period’s political commentary . . . Ganz's dry wit is ever-present . . . This is a revelation." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"John Ganz is the most important young political writer of his generation—just the one our dark moment needs." —Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and Reaganland

"With his combination of immense erudition, independence of mind, clarity of expression, and honesty in reckoning with the terrifying weight of history, John Ganz belongs to a species of public intellectual that is almost extinct. To place him in his proper category, you have to rope in James Baldwin, Garry Wills, and Joan Didion. When the Clock Broke is the first of what I hope will be a shelf of books that help us uncover the true history of our times." Jeet Heer, national affairs correspondent for The Nation

"When the Clock Broke locates the origins of our strange political age in the crack-up of conventional wisdom at the end of the Reagan era and the Cold War. Ganz's clock sounds the alarm on some of the most ominous and entrenched aspects of the American political condition. Unlike many observers these days, he also finds absurdity and humor in our national pageant. Sometimes we need to laugh as well as cry—Ganz's book helps us do both." —Beverly Gage, Gaddis Professor of History at Yale University and author of G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

"I spend my waking hours reading and thinking about the American right, and there is no writer laboring in this field who surprises, provokes, and informs me as much as John Ganz. His work helps readers see further, and more clearly, than the host of tracts by Trump-era peddlers of doom. While Ganz writes with moral urgency, he offers revelatory history rather than cheap conspiracies, and theoretical sophistication, not cable-news cartoons. If you read one book on the pre-history to our calamitous present, make it When the Clock Broke." —Matthew Sitman, cohost of the Know Your Enemy podcast and contributor to Dissent magazine

"If, like me, you’ve spent the better part of the past decade trying to figure out what the hell’s happened to American politics since 2016, John Ganz’s When the Clock Broke will come as a godsend. Ganz gives us a wildly illuminating (and often darkly hilarious) pre-history of the present, tracing the many cultural, economic, and political threads tying that time to our own. You’ll never look at our nation, or our dangerously faltering democracy, in the quite same way again." —Damon Linker, senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Theocons and the Substack Notes from the Middleground

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374605445
ISBN-10: 0374605440
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: June 18th, 2024
Pages: 432
Language: English