GREAT TIMES: An Informal Social History of the United States, 1914-1929 by J.C. Furnas

GREAT TIMES: An Informal Social History of the United States, 1914-1929

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An expansive compendium by a veteran writer who lived through these years, but declines to venture an overarching concept of the period. His stream of particulars reaches further and wider than Edward Robb Ellis' Echoes of Distant Thunder (see above); Furnas has a lively sense of industrial design, architecture and automobile technology, for example, and he also digs out such unfamiliar data as a prewar craze for Hawaiian culture and behaviorist John J. Watson's work for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. Greenwich Village, he claims, had lost ""genuineness"" by 1914; the book is perfunctory on the subject of avant-garde culture but warms up on the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Literary Guild, Modern Library, the Little Blue Books. . . and Ring Lardner. Women activists (with the exception of Addams and Sanger) are not taken seriously, but children are -- the rise of scouting, summer camps and progressive education, which put an end to Penrod Schofieldian idylls. Furnas gives little sense of the liberal establishment of the period, its media or its corporatist sympathies with Mussolini; however, in addition to the sandbox details of the ""narcissistically morbid"" 1920's archetypes, he surveys changes in Harlem, tourist courts and diet. That epithet for the '20's is one of Furnas' few emphatic judgments. The book's main fault is its disinclination to transcend the shallow, arch cast of mind almost universally employed in ""informal social histories.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1974
Publisher: Putnam