Reviewed by Jim McCarthy
Readers should recall Halberstam’s seminal volume The Best and the Brightest, dissecting the nation’s involvement in the war in Vietnam and the forces and leadership that caused that entanglement in Southeast Asia. The Fifties, however, is a far lesser journalistic or incisive effort but, nonetheless, offers a panoramic sweep of that decade, its icons, legends, social and political forces, and strong hints as to those ten years as a seedbed for many current phenomena.
Be warned, there are instances of—well, poor—expression, but those moments do not detract from the overarching view the author paints and weaves into a national portrait of Richard M. Nixon, Senator Joe McCarthy, Elvis Presley, McDonald’s, and others. For those who personally experienced those times, the reaction [as was mine] was often, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I remember but not so poignantly.” For those who are not firsthand witnesses to that decade, there are lessons to learn about the interaction of nuclear war and politics, of social and cultural forces, and individuals who made an imprint upon a nation and society emerging from the post-WW II trauma. Many events and forces that emerged in the 1950s are antecedents to contemporary experiences.
It’s an easy read, informative, and somewhat akin to perusing a family photo album of earlier times, including fond and not so fond memories. For $1.99 from Amazon, it’s a bargain, and was a serendipitous find.