America in the fifties was a country thrust into the spotlight against the vestiges of isolationist past. The only Western power standing with the homeland unscathed as Europe coped with the aftermath of a war-ravaged terrain and the encroachment of the Soviet Union, with which the West had forged an uneasy alliance that was slowly souring into a ideological land grab.
Post-war America was where weary GIs came home to forget the war they fought in Europe and the pacific as they pursued college degrees under the GI Bill, giving them unprecedented access to higher education and greater opportunities for their families. A surging economy, boosted out of post-depression doldrums by war-time economic demand (doing what the New Deal alone could not do), a new American white collar middle class, a baby boom of young Americans that knew neither war or depression.
Only a writer of David Halberstam’s calibre can capture a decade so dense with social, economic, political, international, and cultural changes in a rich tapestry of words that weave in and out of pivotal moments and figures of the decade to give you a taste of what the decade was like. The book masterfully bridges eras planting the seeds of discontent and social upheaval that was to define America in the 60s to follow. If anything the book shows the fifties for what it was beneath the idealized, clean-cut, black and white image projected upon us by classic TV shows and news reels of the time.
It shows a young nation on the verge of rebellion, ready to break with the past as new technology, such as television and inter-continental missiles, distorted the geographic boundaries defined by space or time and a new landscape carved out by highways, where the blacks from the South flooded the Urban areas and the whites in turn spread out into the suburbs.
It’s a rare book that can captivate a reader for the 730 something pages or fall short of the challenge but this book is worth its weight in gold and a fascinating read.