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The Fifties have their bright side too, proposes the author of Another Part of the Twenties. Carter, a Univ. of Arizona historian with a penchant for poking into odd corners (Little America, on the US Antarctic base; The Creation of Tomorrow, on sf), is both a research buff and a relaxed, rangy commentator. Some of what he has to say is less fresh and interesting, indeed, than his approach, and the whole doesn't add up to a systematic revaluation of the gray-flannel decade; but there is much food here for re-thought. The first three chapters, on ""The Political Framework,"" largely express the conviction that we were lucky to have had Eisenhower: he wasn't like Reagan (who, however, is no longer being compared to Ike), while Stevenson would have been a disaster (imagine the Korean War smoldering on, McCarthy unchecked, etc.). To an extent, Carter seems to be venting pique at the ""academic intellectuals"" who rallied to Stevenson and denigrated Ike (dramatically at Columbia, where Carter then was); he is also reflecting, as he recognizes, the current reassessment of Eisenhower--to which he contributes eclectically. Eisenhower's rebound from his heart attack, encouraged by Dr. Paul Dudley White, may have had ""a subtle but profound effect upon America's attitude toward aging and the aged"" (indirectly preparing us, too, for RR). During the Suez crisis, his effort to strengthen ""the material and moral credibility of the United Nations. . . was a high moment for America in the world."" Also, he backed the open-ice Antarctic Treaty, which Carter--concluding his final, Atoms-for-Peace/NASA/IGY chapter--deems the Eisenhower administration's ""most brilliant (and least known) diplomatic success."" The largest part of the book, however, concerns ""The Intellectual Life."" In a series of prismatic essays, Carter looks into: the new, imaginative sociology of William Whyte and David Reisman, Eric Hofer and Paul Goodman, as a seedbed of ""critical discontent"" (""Lonely as a Crowd""); First Amendment Supreme Court decisions, along with Protestant-Catholic movements and their potential for social change (""Under God, By Act of Congress""); Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, ""the newfound tragic sense of life""--and the rejection of Toynbee's premises (""History, Mystery, and the Modern World""). Also: the academic clime (including the quiz-show scandals and Scientists vs. Humanists); movies, TV, books (more cursory, less subtly questioning); and social maturity in sf (a close, unpedantic analysis). ""A time for cultural enrichment"" or not, it was hardly a barren stretch--as Carter's quixotic, stimulating probe makes newly evident.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press