Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Book Review: "The Fifties" by David Halberstam

Our Compton home built in late 40s.
The political and social events of this past year got me thinking, were things really better when I was a kid? My formative years were in the 50s. I grew up in Compton, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. There were still dairies between expanding housing tracts and the Los Angeles River ran free. From my point of view, the world was a settled place and my family was doing well.

My current interest (and sometimes dismay) in U.S. politics instilled a desire to know more about the past. To learn more, I chose to read The Fifties by David Halberstam, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times.

The Fifties was first published in 1993. In it, Halberstam chronicles key events from the decade with photographs, a list of interviewees, an extensive bibliography, end-notes and a detailed index. As a history major, I found it well researched and well written.

Halberstam set the stage for the 1950s by reviewing the effects of the Depression and World War II. Rather than use a sequenced approach, he presented information in themes such as politics, emerging businesses, housing, television, the arts and movies, the bomb, the Cold War, civil rights and much more. Each theme dovetailed with other events to create a unified picture of the times.

Camping was inexpensive and fun.

Many of the names and events were familiar, but the details were fuzzy. I do remember the 1952 election and saying "I like Ike." I don't remember eating at McDonald's until the 60s, but do remember hamburgers from the Beany's drive-in. Cars were important for my parents to get to teaching jobs, and for summer camping trips. I remember bomb drills at school and seeing a mushroom cloud while on a trip through the Nevada desert.

It was disheartening to read how politics haven't changed all that much. I had hoped to read about bipartisan cooperation, but that wasn't the norm then either.

I wouldn't trade growing up in the fifties. For me they were good years spent in a good town with good friends and great parents. They were important years in determining the adult I would become. Were you growing up in the 50s? How were those years for you? -- Margy