• Books

    "I'm out there to clean the plate."

    Richard Ben Cramer, 2005

    Pivotal Tuesdays

    Serious and silly, unifying and polarizing, presidential elections have become events that Americans love and hate. Yet presidential elections also provoke and inspire mass engagement of ordinary citizens in the political system. No matter how frustrated or disinterested voters might be about politics and government, the partisan election process has been a way for a messy, jumbled, raucous nation to come together as a slightly-more-perfect union.

     

    Pivotal Tuesdays looks back at four pivotal presidential elections of the past 100 years to show how they shaped the twentieth century. During the rowdy, four-way race in 1912 between Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Eugene Debs, and Woodrow Wilson, the candidates grappled with the tremendous changes of industrial capitalism and how best to respond to them. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt's promises to give Americans a "New Deal" to combat the Great Depression helped him beat the beleaguered incumbent, Herbert Hoover. The dramatic and tragic campaign of 1968 that saw the election of Richard Nixon reflected an America divided by race, region, and war and set in motion political dynamics that persisted into the book's final story—the three-way race that led to Bill Clinton's 1992 victory.

     

    Exploring the personalities, critical moments, and surprises of these races, Margaret O'Mara shows how and why candidates won or lost and examines the effects these campaigns had on the presidencies that followed. But this isn't just a book about politics. It is about the evolution of a nation and the history made by ordinary people who cast their ballots.

     

    Buy now at Penn Press or Amazon.

     

    Cities of Knowledge

    What is the magic formula for turning a place into a high-tech capital? How can a city or region become a high-tech powerhouse like Silicon Valley? For over half a century, through boom times and bust, business leaders and politicians have tried to become "the next Silicon Valley," but few have succeeded. This book examines why high-tech development became so economically important late in the twentieth century, and why its magic formula of people, jobs, capital, and institutions has been so difficult to replicate. Margaret O'Mara shows that high-tech regions are not simply accidental market creations but "cities of knowledge"--planned communities of scientific production that were shaped and subsidized by the original venture capitalist, the Cold War defense complex.

     

    At the heart of the story is the American research university, an institution enriched by Cold War spending and actively engaged in economic development. The story of the city of knowledge broadens our understanding of postwar urban history and of the relationship between civil society and the state in late twentieth-century America. It leads us to further redefine the American suburb as being much more than formless "sprawl," and shows how it is in fact the ultimate post-industrial city. Understanding this history and geography is essential to planning for the future of the high-tech economy, and this book is must reading for anyone interested in building the next Silicon Valley.

     

     

     

    You can read the Introduction here.

     

    Buy now at Princeton University Press or Amazon.

    Coming soon

    A history of the high-tech revolution, from the mainframe era to the present, under contract with Penguin Press.

     

    You can see Margaret O'Mara talking about this work at the 2015 ACLS Annual Meeting here.