Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson


I've frequently referred to the United States from 1945 to 1965 as The America That Worked(TM), and, where possible, identified authors who did not describe the secular challenges to that order as unambiguously desirable. The 2010 Fifty Book Challenge entries will continue that theme, offering Joseph C. Goulden's The Best Years: 1945-1950 as Book Review No. 1. The book came out in 1976, and Mr Goulden's biography notes contributions to Harper's and The Nation, admittedly before those magazines went nuts, as well as investigative reporting on AT&T and the Gulf of Tonkin. What makes the work instructive is his reluctance to apply hindsight to the time he describes, from the surrender of Japan to the beginning of the Korean War. Thus, although he devotes sections to the consumer economy and the popular culture, he leaves the subsequent sneering at what emerged later in the Eisenhower administration for readers to discover in John Kenneth Galbraith or Vance Packard. Each section begins with a recollection of his adolescence in Marshall, Texas, and his recognition that something is wrong with de jure segregation surfaces, but the reader will have to find out what transpired elsewhere. The tension between the credentialed Establishment and the benighted masses, manifesting itself in the emergence of Whittaker Chambers, Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon as prominent anticommunists is present, but Mr Goulden resists the temptation to say much about their subsequent implosions. And perhaps that is a good thing, as in 1976, the crackup of Soviet-style communism and the Warsaw Pact was not in any of the Serious People's prognostications. The contemporary reader might read the history, more or less as it happened, of the end of the World War II alliance and the development of that counter-Establishment, and reflect on whether a similar dynamic might be at work, with Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin among the early critics of an overweening government, and a crackup of the technocratic Credentialed Establishment that will come.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: history, politics
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