Faculty Author Q&A: Julian Zelizer on “Burning Down the House”

July 7, 2020
Julian Zelizer, “Burning Down the House”

Julian Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton School of Public & International Affairs. His latest book is Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party, published by Penguin Random House in July, 2020.

How did you get the idea for this project?

This is a story that I have been interested in over the years. I’ve touched on it in other books and often taught about. Newt Gingrich’s rise was a perfect way to understand how the Republican Party changed in the 1980s and evolved into its current structure.

How has your project developed or changed throughout the research and writing process?

I came to appreciate the role that individuals could have at key turning points in American politics. I also gained a better sense of how much trouble Democrats had, as a party, understanding the changes that were taking hold in the media and in partisan politics.

What questions for future investigation has the project sparked?

We need more of a history of partisanship in American politics. Not just the big picture changes–the sorting of voters, silos in the media, gerrymandering–but the people and moments that made a difference in how our politics moved from the era of the Cold War and Great Society to today.

Why should people read this book?

It’s a gripping story. It revolves around a scandal that brings down the most powerful person in Congress. You’ll understand how we got to where we are, but enjoy a thrilling saga along the way.

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