THE FIFTIES by David Halberstam


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In The Best and the Brightest, The Powers That Be, and The Reckoning, Halberstam proved that he can master intimidating subjects with aplomb--and in this massive tome on a convulsive decade in American life, he meets with equal success. Such a sprawling panorama can't be depicted coherently without selective use of material, and some of Halberstam's omissions are open to question. While rightly lingering over McCarthyism and the development of the atomic bomb, he skims over Communism's advances in Eastern Europe and China in the late 40's, leaving an inadequate sense of why Americans yielded so readily to national-security hysteria during the period. Halberstam also fails to explain fully America's role in reviving the postwar economies of Japan and Western Europe. And why is there nothing on the advances that put air travel in reach of the average American? Nevertheless, Halberstam keeps his narrative tightly focused by concentrating on the era's human instruments of change, including some famous (Eisenhower, Elvis, Brando, Kerouac, Milton Berle, et al.) and others more obscure (Kemmons Wilson and Dick and Mac McDonald, founders of, respectively, Holiday Inn and McDonald's). In this often "mean time" of redbaiting, change still managed to burst out, with the invention of the Pill, the moves by Japan and Germany to undercut GM's preeminence in the auto industry, and the assault on legalized segregation. Halberstam finds at the heart of this decade of social, political, and economic innovation a deep split between an acceptance of change and a yearning for earlier and simpler times, and he examines thoroughly how TV altered various aspects of American life--its recreation habits, its advertising, and, inevitably, its politics, through the medium's coverage of the Little Rock crisis and the JFK-Nixon debates. Compulsively readable, with familiar events and people grown fresh in the telling.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0449909336
Page count: 684pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993


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