AMERICAN HIGH: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960 by William O'Neill

AMERICAN HIGH: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960

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KIRKUS REVIEW

According to O'Neill (Coming Apart, The Last Romantic) 1945-60 was not a low period in American history, but a ""high"" one, marked by great achievements which laid the groundwork for the reform of the 60's. In a nonscholarly but sometimes text-hooky fashion, O'Neill lists the advances--a high standard of living, medical breakthroughs, the growth of the TV and movie industries, a suburbanized religion that embraced tolerance and ""niceness"" over bigotry, the gusto of rock 'n' roll, a low divorce rate, brilliant accomplishments in foreign policy, and so forth. Sure, McCarthyism and racism were blights, the Cold War a cause for anxiety, and the Korean War depressing. But overall this was a fine time for Americans, according to O'Neill. Americans may have been comformist but no more so than they had ever been. O'Neill's larger purpose is to free the history of the postwar era from left-wing ideological exaggeration and moralistic cant. He argues that the period must not be seen ideologically but ""functionally,"" in terms of what was ""necessary and possible."" Yet, there is an ideological agenda here, revealed if only by what is left out. There is virtually no mention of corporate capitalism, and little of the widespread decline of public life and of political participation, of the anxieties and tensions that emerged within this context of abundance. Moreover, much of O'Neill's own evidence can be used to prove that the era's conformity was unprecedented and directly related to systemic features. Still, there is much of value in this book, not the least O'Neill's successful demolition of the missile-gap myth, Ms insightful discussion of the Eisenhower years, of Eisenhower himself, and his devastating portrait of Richard Nixon. Above all, O'Neill's analysis of the rise of the civil-rights movement is passionate and persuasive.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1986
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan