A rigorous, engaging assessment of the impressive post-WWII economic growth in the US by the late business historian Sobel (Coolidge, 1998, etc.).
Like the teacher he was for more than 40 years, Sobel begins with a question: “How did Americans who in 1945 imagined their futures might not be particularly bright come to accomplish so much during the ensuing fifty-plus years?” Throughout the remainder of this comprehensive work he provides a variety of answers, most of which flatter—deservedly so—his coevals, Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” (Sobel alludes to Brokaw’s book more than once). Sobel establishes that the GI’s returning from WWII felt “a generalized lack of confidence”—after all, they had lived through both the Great Depression and a devastating war. But they possessed, he writes, the values of “hard work and dedication” and the determination to improve not only their own lives but the lives of their descendants. Sobel argues that the most important factors fueling the unprecedented accumulation of wealth were home ownership (he has an enlightening account of the development of Levittown and the ensuing suburbia), education (he credits the GI Bill), and entrepreneurship (he discusses many ventures (from McDonald’s to Yahoo!). President Reagan emerges as a sort of cultural hero in this account: Sobel assails critics of Reagan’s economic policies (stockholders profited during the corporate-raiding 1980s, he observes) and identifies as “Reagan’s defining moment” the breaking of the PATCO strike. Sobel also leans right in his social criticism, sniping at 1960s campus radicals and at universities’ declining academic standards. His reply to the question of why so many people remain in poverty is the cold comment that “there will always be some who cannot handle capitalism and freedom.” The book ends with a sanguine view of a future with “boundless” possibilities.
Conservative in bent, expansive in scope, sedulous in scholarship, often wise and wonderful. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)