Books by Margot A. Henriksen

Released: July 1, 1997

A historian bites off more than she can chew in this look at America in the shadow of the bomb from Los Alamos to the early 1970s. Henriksen (History/Univ. of Hawaii) attempts to show how America's obsession with the atomic bomb produced a ``culture of dissent'' that affected most kinds of artistic expression. Although several forms of art are addressed (popular music, including such hits as Barry McGuire's ``Eve of Destruction''; the visual arts, as represented by such figures as Jackson Pollock; the novel, as in the works of Thomas Pynchon), film is the primary medium with which Henriksen concerns herself. She examines films that explore a variety of themes, including chemical destruction (White Heat), youth in revolt (Rebel Without a Cause), and, of course, the bomb itself, most notably in the film of the book's title. But it is the work of Alfred Hitchcock that weighs most heavily in her analysis; his film Psycho figures, for instance, in a chapter on the rise of mental illness in America during the postwar period, while Vertigo expresses the pervasive guilt and confusion of the era. Indeed, the narrative often seems bogged down by extraneous material, by a proliferation of examples incompletely explored. Furthermore, while the study is clearly defined as cultural history, there is far too little actual history to hold the book coherently together. The most important historical event in postwar America relating directly to the atomic bomb—the Cuban missile crisis—is disposed of by Henriksen in a mere five pages. Henriksen really seems to have two books in one: the first about Hitchcock and post-war America, the other about the ``culture of dissent'' as expressed in the arts of the last five decades. Read full book review >