Rick Perlstein on Garry Wills

Primary Sources is a podcast where writers and intellectuals talk about some of the greatest influences on their work.
“Your first, last, and only obligation is to the reader and to the truth as you see it, without fear or favor.”

Rick Perlstein is the author of a series of books on the rise of the American right, sprawling works of narrative history that are both rigorously-researched and highly entertaining. Among them is Before the Storm, which examines the band of conservative activists who spearheaded Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 Presidential campaign, and Nixonland, which chronicles how Richard Nixon exploited the backlash to the 1960s to forge a powerful new brand of conservative politics.

On today’s show, Rick talks about another historian who has deeply influenced him: Garry Wills. Wills is the author of more than fifty books, on subjects ranging from Augustine’s Confessions to John Wayne to Ronald Reagan. Like Rick, Wills began his career as a journalist and never received a PhD in history.

In our conversation, Rick and I talk about the qualities he most admires in Wills, among them his unpredictability and his lack of deference to power. We also discuss the importance of morality in both their work, and how Rick’s views of the conservative movement have evolved over time.


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View a transcript of the episode here.


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Primary Sources is a co-production of Public Books and Type Media Center. Our show’s executive producer is Caitlin Zaloom, the founding editor of Public Books. Our producer is DJ Cashmere. Our engineer is Jess Engebretson. Special thanks to Kelley Deane McKinney, the publisher and managing editor of Public Books and Taya Grobow, executive director of Type Media Center. Our theme music is “Kitty in the Window,” composed by Podington Bear (Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License).

Featured image: Rick Perlstein. Photograph by Michael Zajakowski.