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


There's also the monthly Book Review Club for teen/young adult and adult fiction over at Barrie Summy's blog.

Check out Booknificent Thursdays at Mommynificent.com

Also shared with Your the Star at Stone Cottage Adventures and Book Review Linkup at Lovely Audio Books. -- Margy

19 comments:

  1. Oh how fun! You read a book about the past to determine if the past really was made up of better times. Was it? No for politics, but yes for family life? This book sounds really interesting. Thanks for reviewing!

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    1. If things are good is so dependent on point of view. I thought politics were going well when they really weren't. Family life for me was warm and supportive. My hometown a perfect place to develop. But there were hints even then about social issues that needed more attention. - Margy

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  2. I enjoyed this review very much. I like how you compare then and now but I wish things were different. You hear the phrase "easier times" or something like that and it doesn't really sound like they were all that different. I will say, growing up, camping was our vacation every summer. We'd drive out in the old station wagon and set up camp in Colorado, or New Mexico or Wyoming. Good memories from the child in me perspective. Thanks for reviewing. :)

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    1. I have so many good camping memories and have continued to camp (now using an RV) my whole life. - Margy

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  3. I adore this book. I have gone to as a reference book countless times.

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    1. It is a great reference with the extensive bibliography and index. - Margy

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  4. It sounds like an interesting book. I was born in the latter half of the 50s and remember virtually nothing.

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    1. I don't remember much (or anything) before the age of four. - Margy

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  5. What a great idea, Margy. I should read the book, too. I grew up in the 50's and remember saying "I like Ike" though probably later than 1952. My hometown was Dormont, a tiny borough just outside Pittsburgh, PA. It was a lovely, safe environment for children to grow up in. So I personally remember the 1950s as a happy time. The 1960s were a much more mixed bag.

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    1. Despite what people hear about Compton, it was a safe and great place to grow up. I agree about the 60s in my high school and college years. - Margy

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  6. Oh, and yes, I also remember the "duck and cover" drills. A younger woman I worked with was laughing about those one day, and I pointed out that while it may all seem silly now, we were absolutely terrified of The Bomb being dropped on us at any moment. That was one of the less pleasant memories.

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    1. I only remember duck and cover as bomb drills from elementary school. When I was a teacher then a principal in Southern California they were for earthquake drills. With one quake when I was a principal we had to evacuate to the playground and stay there until the buildings were cleared hours later. - Margy

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  7. I love how we both looked to books about the past to understand our troubled times! Sadly, I think the troubles were a long time in the coming, especially on race and economic inequality.

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    1. I think all aspects of our troubles have a basis in our past. - Margy

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  8. Margy - I was a 60s baby, so I can't reflect on the 1950s. To learn (or re-learn) that "the good old days" were not always good is both encouraging and discouraging. One thing is certain - if we don't learn from the past, we are likely to repeat it! Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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    1. I'm now looking for a 60s book as a follow-up. - Margy

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  9. I love seeing what other people read. This looks interesting.
    Amalia
    xo

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    1. I'm always watching for a good book for my next read. Do you have any suggestions? - Margy

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  10. I was born in 1940, so yes I was there. Haven’t read the book (I read a lot, mostly, but not all, fiction). It was a good time to grow up, but I hate it when people in my advanced age group seem to think it was perfect and that we should revert to it. It wasn’t perfect for a lot of people.

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We welcome your comments and questions. - Wayne and Margy