Jim Cullen’s Books

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1980: AMERICA’S PIVOTAL YEAR (Rutger’s University Press)

1980 was a turning point in American history. When the year began, it was still very much the 1970s, with Jimmy Carter in the White House, a sluggish economy marked by high inflation, and the disco still riding the airwaves. When it ended, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in a landslide, inaugurating a rightward turn in American politics and culture. We still feel the effects of this tectonic shift today, as even subsequent Democratic administrations have offered neoliberal economic and social policies that owe more to Reagan than to FDR or LBJ. To understand what the American public was thinking during this pivotal year, we need to examine what they were reading, listening to, and watching.

1980: American Culture in Transition puts the news events of the era—everything from the Iran hostage crisis to the rise of televangelism—into conversation with the year’s popular culture. Separate chapters focus on the movies, television shows, songs, and books that Americans were talking about that year, including both the biggest hits and some notable flops that failed to capture the shifting zeitgeist. As he looks at the events that had Americans glued to their screens, from the Miracle on Ice to the mystery of Who Shot JR, cultural historian Jim Cullen garners surprising insights about how Americans’ attitudes were changing as they entered the 1980s.

Out Now:

BEST CLASS YOU NEVER HAD: A Novel (Permuted Press, 2021)

“How would you teach American history if the themes and lessons were entirely up to you? Jim Cullen’s brilliant new novel provides one very vivid set of answers. Through the eyes of retiring teacher Kevin Lee, we see history presented as it really is: a set of puzzles and riddles, about who we are and what we want to be. I want all of our young people to take a course from Mr. Lee, or from someone like him. Why can’t they?” 

— Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education, University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America”

MARTIN SCORSESE and the American Dream (Rutgers, 2021).

Martin Scorsese is a preeminent American filmmaker, and Jim Cullen is a preeminent historian of American culture. Spanning from the director’s youth on the mean streets of Manhattan to the closing scene of The Irishman, this book is teeming with brilliant insight into some of the most important films of the last 50 years. Highly recommended for cinephiles and for anyone interested in the story of the American Dream.”
 — Jonathan D. Cohen ― co-editor of Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen

FROM MEMORY TO HISTORY: Television Versions of the Twentieth Century (Rutgers, 2021).

“This is a terrific book, fun and learned and provocative. Ranging across television from The Waltons to The Americans, Cullen provides an entertaining and thoughtful account of the ways that we remember and how

this is influenced and directed by what we watch. The discussions of popular television series are excellent, and together they provide a compelling account of historical television, reminding us that nothing artistic happens by chance and that we should be careful of what we believe.”– Jerome de Groot ― author of Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture

THOSE WERE THE DAYS: The American History of All in the Family (Rutgers, 2020).

“Little did I know about the world Archie Bunker and All in the Family were born into until I read Jim Cullen’s informed and perceptive “Those Were the Days: Why All In The Family Matters.” –Norman Lear

DEMOCRATIC EMPIRE: The United States Since 1945 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016)

A brief survey of U.S. history since the end of World War II, focusing on popular beliefs, fears, and hopes that have shaped American culture and history over the last eight decades.


“An excellent introduction to the technologies, industries, cultural forms, and genres that constitute our media landscape.  Cullen shows that the history of our media is in many ways the history of our sociality and our intimacies.” — Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University

THE SECRET LIVES OF TEACHERS (University of Chicago, 2015).

Welcome to “East Hudson,” an elite private school in New York where the students are attentive, the colleagues are supportive, and the tuition would make the average person choke on its string of zeroes. You might think a teacher here would have little in common with most other teachers in America, but as this veteran educator—writing anonymously—shows in this refreshingly honest account, all teachers are bound by a common thread. 

SENSING THE PAST: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions (Oxford, 2013).

Sensing the Past will change the way readers think about movie stars and American history. Through a series of penetrating profiles, Jim Cullen examines how actors have embodied the central themes of our past and weds them to the present. Every page glistens with insights about actors we admire and movies we think we know.” — Louis P. Masur, author of The Civil War: A Concise History

ESSAYING THE PAST: How to Read, Write and Think about History (2009; third ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).

“There’s a level of sophistication in Essaying the Past that is disguised by its utterly clear and engaging style. Jim Cullen tells students just what they need to know to write about the past.” –Mari Jo Buhle, Brown University

IMPERFECT PRESIDENTS: Tales of Misadventure and Triumph (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

“Jim Cullen has dared to write an old-fashioned book about the virtues of American presidents. But instead of wooden tales about cherry trees and log cabins, he has given us complex portraits of flawed men who performed acts of moral courage at critical moments in the nation’s history. Imperfect Presidents invites us to admire these leaders–and even to find lessons in their stories–without indulging in hero-worship.” ― Steven Biel, Executive Director, Humanities Center, Harvard University, and author of American Gothic: A Life of America’s Most Famous Painting

Editor (with Lyde Cullen Sizer), THE CIVIL WAR ERA: A Narrative Anthology (Blackwell, 2005).

“The pulling together of all this material into one coherent volume represents a considerable editorial achievement, and one that highlights not just the most recent scholarly approaches to Civil War but also some of the reasons for the subject’s perennial fascination for students, academics and the public alike.” — Journal of American Studies

THE AMERICAN DREAM: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation  (Oxford, 2003. Chinese edition forthcoming).

“Its straightforward and engaging narrative style ought to appeal to general readers of American history, and its broader explorations of freedom, equality and shared ideals offers a nice dose of depth as well.” — Publishers Weekly

RESTLESS IN THE PROMISED LAND: Catholics and the American Dream (Sheed & Ward, 2001).

“In Restless in the Promised Land, author Jim Cullen has turned a much-needed academic microscope on the seminal concept of the American Dream. He also examines Catholicism–with its ‘immediacy, beauty, and misery’–in its complex relationship to that Dream. In a lively narrative, Cullen searches out key intersections of the story of Catholics in the United States with the wider American milieu.” — Clyde Crews, author of American & Catholic: A popular history of Catholicism in the U.S.

Editor, POPULAR CULTURE IN AMERICAN HISTORY (Blackwell, 2001; second ed. 2013).

“Cullen’s outstanding collection helps readers understand the significance of key cultural changes, ranging from the movies to the web. Groundbreaking essays as well as insight into how historians work make this a valuable volume.” — Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

BORN IN THE USA: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition (HarperCollins, 1997. Literary Guild alternate selection. Second ed. Wesleyan 2005; also published in Britain).

“Jim Cullen writes with authority and empathy about the blue-collar roots that shaped Bruce Springsteen and gave rise to his music of rebellion. This is a provocative look at one of America’s cultural icons. –Eleanor Clift, Newsweek

THE ART OF DEMOCRACY: A Concise History of Popular Culture in the United States (Monthly Review Press, 1996).

“A thoroughly engaging look at American culture … Cullen’s articulate prose is spiced with wicked wit and he loves a good story … Demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of complex cultural forces.” — Publishers Weekly

THE CIVIL WAR IN POPULAR CULTURE: A Reusable Past (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995). History Book Club alternate.

To most Americans today, the Civil War is known through popular culture, not through the professional historical literature. In this book Jim Cullen examines popular renderings of the war — from books & films to songs & drama — showing how they have come to represent various truths about the war to certain groups, precisely because they resonate with contemporary points of division & struggle. Cullen takes specific examples from twentieth-century popular culture, such as books, films, rock n roll, & historical reenactors. For each, the recollection of the Civil War serves & is shaped by current concerns.