The United States Since 1945
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Two-time Pulitzer finalist Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 2008, etc.) accounts for the last seven decades of U.S. history.

The author begins with “the war that never ended,” as World War II shaded into the Cold War. The Soviets, though weakened by six years of bloodletting, were resolute enough to effectively seize half of Europe after the war—and to impose the blockade of Berlin that led not just to the celebrated airlift of 1948, but also to the pitted struggle of superpowers and their allies that continued for nearly half a century. “Stalin and communism supplanted Hitler and fascism as the enemies of America,” Brands writes, and with that swap came the Red Scare, the HUAC and Joseph McCarthy. There was some actual shooting, too. The author ably investigates the international nature of the Korean War, which involved China and Russia as well as North Korea on one side and the United Nations and United States on the other. Amid all this, Brands charts the rise of the new trivialism and consumer-driven infantilism that saw, as one journalist noted, “shoppers carry Mickey Mouse satchels and briefcases bursting with Mickey Mouse soap, candy, playing cards, bridge favors, hairbrushes, chinaware, alarm clocks and hot-water bottles, wrapped in Mickey Mouse paper, tied with Mickey Mouse ribbon, and paid for out of Mickey Mouse purses with savings hoarded in Mickey Mouse banks. Brands’s chronicle of the sweeping social-good legislative packages that passed through House and Senate during the administration of Lyndon Johnson will prove thrilling—but also sobering—for anyone contemplating the current gridlock on Capitol Hill, while his account of the carefully planned rise of the Christian Right stands as an important warning.

Necessarily cursory—will leave readers wanting more—but elegantly written and sharp.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59420-262-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2010

Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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