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

When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s By John Ganz Cover Image

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

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AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | National Indie Bestseller

"Terrific . . . Vibrant . . . When the Clock Broke is one of those rarest of books: unflag
gingly entertaining while never losing sight of its moral core." —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times (Editors' Choice)

"When the Clock Broke is leagues more insightful on the subject of Trump’s ascent than most writing that purports to address the issue directly." —Becca Rothfeld, The Washington Post

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

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


A 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.

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

"[A] terrific new book . . . Vibrant . . . [Ganz] has the skills of a gifted storyteller—one with excellent comedic timing, too—slipping in the most absurd and telling details . . . Urgent and illuminating . . . Like the cultural moment he covers, Ganz gets energized by mixing high and low. When the Clock Broke is one of those rarest of books: unflaggingly entertaining while never losing sight of its moral core." —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

"[A] wry and engaging account . . . [Ganz] turns his hand to character studies that double as deft exercises in political critique . . . When the Clock Broke is leagues more insightful on the subject of Trump’s ascent than most writing that purports to address the issue directly." —Becca Rothfeld, The Washington Post

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

"Like other great works of historical revision and reclamation, When the Clock Broke delivers an account of the past that topples confident certainties of phony consensus, while rendering the signal political battles of the present in an entirely new light." —Chris Lehmann, The Baffler

"By far the most readable, entertaining, and genuinely enlightening of the glut of books promising to “explain” [Trump's] rise . . . The writing is both fleet and rigorous, sweeping and exacting, funny and deadly serious." —Derek Robertson, Washington Examiner

"[A] sparkling new history of the 1990s . . . When the Clock Broke offers a starkly different interpretation of the decade, arguing that it is really the origin point for our present 'politics of national despair' . . . The real insight of When the Clock Broke is the way it names a break in the conservative tradition." —Kim Phillips-Fein, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Ganz has distinguished himself through his ability to uncover the often-unnoticed origins of far-right politics. [When the Clock Broke] confirms his reputation as one of America’s most astute observers of the Right and allows readers to see the 1990s with new eyes." —Tristan Hughes, Jacobin

"Lively . . . [Ganz] argues with disarming vim . . . When the Clock Broke is a vivid tour of the time [. . .] before the storm." —Chris Vognar, The Boston Globe

"[When the Clock Broke] systematically dismantles the comforting notion that the current civic emergency is some unprecedented break with history . . . Ganz tells his story with sly timing and an appreciation of the absurd." —Tom Scocca, Air Mail

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

"Ganz takes us beneath the triumphal surface [of the 1990s] to the gritty and granular political and cultural trends that were gathering under and, with startling frequency, erupting from it . . . Hindsight can always find analogies and precursors for current events. But Ganz is after more than startled recognition. He offers an account of deep continuities in American political and cultural life." —Benjamin J. Dueholm, The Christian Century

"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)

"[An] educational and entertaining work of political history . . . Trump, Ganz demonstrates, is a walking embodiment of early-'90s right-wing talk radio." —Brian Doherty, Reason

"A searching history of a time, not so long ago, when the social contract went out the window and Hobbesian war beset America . . . Ganz makes a convincing, well-documented case that everything old is indeed new again. A significant, provocative work." Kirkus Reviews

"Ganz presents a comprehensive intellectual history . . . This distinctive history documents a potpourri of disparate ideas and events in a country on the verge of great change without knowing where it is going . . . A tour de force . . . A must read for every American wondering how we got here." Booklist

"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