Aaron J. Leonard

Author | Historian

Coming — May 17, 2024

Historians correctly remind us that, in the 1960s, America experienced cultural and political turmoil that still resonates nearly six decades later. But in Meltdown Expected, Aaron J. Leonard proves the overlooked point that events during the last years of the 1970s were just as crucial, from Jonestown to Three Mile Island, from the rise of the Religious Right to the growing threat of violence both at home and abroad. I frankly cannot conceive of a more important book for readers who want to truly understand not only how we have gotten to where we are today, but why.

Jeff Guinn, author of The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

Aaron J. Leonard has produced a fascinating account of an era that is growing quickly away from contemporary public attention. He shows that the world we live in today had not yet taken definitive shape, that the fluidity of social movements still alive from the 1960s, in some ways still growing, had the capacity to enhance democracy but fell toward failure. The power on the other side proved too great. Still, the details offer important clues for what may yet become the dynamos of tomorrow's American promise.

Paul Buhle, co-editor with Mari Jo Buhle of the Encyclopedia of the American Left


In January 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that “There is all across our land a growing sense of peace and a sense of common purpose.” Yet in the ensuing months, a series of crises disturbed that fragile sense of peace, ultimately setting the stage for Reagan’s decisive victory in 1980 and ushering in the final phase of the Cold War.

Meltdown Expected tells the story of the power shifts from late 1978 through 1979 whose repercussions are still being felt. Iran’s revolution led to a hostage crisis while neighbouring Afghanistan became the site of a proxy war between the USSR and the US, who supplied aid to Islamic mujahideen fighters that would later form the Taliban. Meanwhile, as tragedies like the Jonestown mass suicide and the assassination of Harvey Milk captured the nation’s attention, the government quietly reasserted and expanded the FBI’s intelligence powers. Drawing from recently declassified government documents and covering everything from Three Mile Island to the rise of punk rock, Aaron J. Leonard paints a vivid portrait of a tumultuous yet pivotal time in American history.

What They Are Saying About Aaron J. Leonard

Heavy Radicals

To better understand the current state of domestic surveillance and political repression, from Occupy Wall Street to the Edward Snowden revelations, start with this little gem of a book.

T.J. English, Author of The Savage City and Havana Nocturne

In this masterfully written and extensively researched book, Aaron Leonard with Conor A. Gallagher offers a no-nonsense critical analysis of one of the most resilient, misunderstood, and controversial anti-capitalist organizations of the last fifty years.

Robeson Taj Frazier, Author of The East Is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination

Threat of the First Magnitude

It is a fascinating history that is also a prescient warning.  After reading this book, I can't help but wonder how things might have turned out if the government's informants had never been members of the groups they helped destroy.

Ron Jacobs, author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Daydream Sunset: The 60s Counterculture in the 70s

We already knew the FBI spied on "political subversives.” Now Leonard and Gallagher turn a welcome spotlight on the informants who infiltrated deeply — and likely illegally — into radical political groups.

Scott Martelle, author of Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West and The Fear Within: Spies, Commies and American Democracy on Trial

Folk Singers & The Bureau

A fascinating understanding of the beginnings of the folk music revival through the lens of the particularly zealous FBI. A groundbreaking approach to the post-World War II destructive Red Scare and the numerous folk musicians who were targeted.

—Ronald D. Cohen, author of Roots of the Revival and Rainbow Quest

Historically informed and impressively contextualized, Folk Singers is a dark tale of persecution, paranoia, and valiant resistance to tyranny.

—Will Kaufman, author of Woody Guthrie, American Radical and Mapping Woody Guthrie

Whole World in an Uproar

What happened when HUAC, the FBI, Jim Crow, corporate media outlets, drug warriors, the religious right, and even the Old Left tried to stop a freight train? Drawing on a broad range of sources, including FBI files, Whole World in an Uproar recounts that momentous story.

—Peter Richardson, author of No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead

A fascinating counter-history of the 1960s music revolution through the eyes of the persecutors, paranoiacs, and culture warriors who tried to stop it.

—Dorian Lynskey, author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs