The Fifties may not have been the very worst of times but they were surely not the best. ""Materialistic, militaristic, frightened, conformist, conservative, stuffy, and trivial"" is the judgment of this nostalgia-withering book. The verdict may be something of a cliche, but the authors' richness of source material--a vast montage of newspaper clippings, top ten discs, churchly homilies, best-selling potboilers, and such period insignia as the Edsel and the Jayne Mansfield hot-water bottle--is guaranteed to turn sentimental memories into instant revulsion. More, they use even the zaniest fringes of popular culture to serious purpose. You've been exposed to this catalogue of viciousness and idiocy before: McCarthyism and the fear of Commies in the State Department and under the bed; nuclear brinkmanship and fallout shelters (the H-bomb was originally dubbed the ""humanitarian bomb""); the optimistic ""reassurance"" theology of Norman Vincent Peale and films like A Man Called Peter which promised that ""religion can be fun""; the artificially induced prosperity built on destructive weaponry, junked cars, and outdoor barbeque pits; Hollywood escapism which eschewed all social or political problems; the tacit assumption--at least before Little Rock--that everyone was white. One can, of course, argue with particulars such as the authors' claim that Dr. Spock, so famously ""progressive,"" was in fact guilty of a ""subtle totalitarianism"" in child-rearing. But overall the era is dismally recognizable.