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.