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Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture (Film and Culture) Hardcover – October 22, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Invigorating and wide-ranging scholarship... The heart of Cold War, Cool Medium is a lively and compelling retelling of the effect of McCarthyism on television.

(Cineaste)

[A] seriously intelligent history.

(Library Journal)

Cold War, Cool Medium, by Thomas Doherty, ranks as one of the seminal books ever written about the history of television and politics in the USA.....Doherty brilliantly challenges this conventional wisdom and indeed turns it upside down. He skillfully, systematically, and clearly demonstrates that early television helped the USA become a more tolerant nation, and provided for more open discussion.

(Douglas Gomery Television Quarterly)

Doherty's Cold War, Cool Medium earns its place as a subtle new map of America's politics during television's toddler years. It offers fine-grained images for television's political pontification and purifications from the late 1940s to mid-1950s.... For the study of this awkward period in America's television culture, it is hard to imagine a better text for discussions with students. Colleagues who lived in that era will read it with pained appreciation.

(John Shelton Lawrence Journal of American Culture)

fresh and important insights...an accurate and engrossing account for the nonspecialist, and its methodology provides a revealing context for the specialist as well

(Brenda Murphy The Journal of American History)

thoughtful and nuanced

(Michael C. C. Adams Film & History)

Thomas Doherty's groundbreaking new volume, Cold War, Cool Medium, [is] a sweeping examination of the collision of television and McCarthyism, and one of the most searching looks at the intersection of popular and political culture in years.

(Boston Globe)

Doherty's excellent Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture [is] more timely than its title suggests.... [Doherty] has penned an engaging revisionist account of mass hysteria, forcefully arguing against critics who cast television in its early days as a co-conspirator in conducting witch hunts and stifling dissent.... Doherty's history of the early political uses of television is never less than fascinating.

(Reason Magazine)

A witty, often riveting account of the simultaneous rise of television and McCarthy.

(Film Comment)

Explores TV's wonders and skillfully exposes the power of pressure groups on the new medium, which acted out the psychosis that dominated the 1950s. Relying on thorough and enlightening research, Doherty notes the ironies, anti-Semitism and class prejudices that underlined Senator Joseph McCarthy's ascension.... Doherty chronicles the medium and its players with style and scholarship.

(Publishers Weekly)

A wide-ranging, impressionistic portrait of the era... Mr. Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University and a noted film historian, deftly recaps this familiar story.

(New York Observer)

Doherty succeeds in illuminating both the history of television in the US in the 1950s and television's relationship to the era's anticommunist crusade.... this volume carefully examines the often-overlooked political side of 1950s television. Essential.

(Choice)

Cold War, Cool Medium is an excellent overview of television and American culture at a pivotal moment in United States history. It is also wittily written, with Doherty's sense of humour and irony coming through on nearly every page.

(Jennifer Frost, University of Auckland Australasian Journal of American Studies 1900-01-00)

It is not only readable, enlightening and amusing, it does what all good books on the televisual Cold War should do: it can distinguish between hype and substance.

(Adam Piette Journal of American Studies 1900-01-00)

Doherty delivers an enlightening and critical reassessment of television, culture, and politics in the early 1950's.

(Michael Curtin American Historical Review)

Cold War, Cool Medium is an engaging and complex account of US commercial television during the 1950's.

(Megan Mullen Technology and Culture)

[A] superbly written analysis of the link between the rise of American television and the fall of Senator McCarthy.

(Vincent Brook American Studies 1900-01-00)

Cold War, Cool Medium is engagingly written, offering prose that is brimming with wit and insight.

(Christine Becker Film Quarterly)

Review

A learned and astute historian (and also something of a poet), Thomas Doherty has written an extraordinary book about the close relationship between the Cold War and the rise of television...Doherty has demonstrated that the medium--a various and even feisty forum in its early days--would often challenge the prevailing creed of paranoid anti-communism....An exhilarating work of scholarship, revealing that there was another, livelier, and more complex dimension to the period of 'brinksmanship' and blacklists.

(Mark Crispin Miller, New York University, and author of Boxed In: The Culture of TV)|

For those who think that too many words already have been written about McCarthyism and television, this book will come as a most welcome surprise. Cold War, Cool Medium connects these two vital currents of modern American history in remarkably perceptive ways, demonstrating the impact of television upon the rise and fall of extremist politics in this era, and the powerful legacy that survives to this day. Cold War, Cool Medium is a wonderful read--riveting as a cultural history, perfect as a teaching tool.

(David M. Oshinsky

George Littlefield Professor of History

Un, University of Texas at Austin, and author of A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy)

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Product Details

  • Series: Film and Culture
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (October 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231129521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231129527
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,676,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author





A professor of American studies at Brandeis University, Thomas Doherty is a cultural historian with a special interest in Hollywood cinema. His undergraduate degree is from Gonzaga University, a small liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington, similar to Brandeis but with different religious holidays. After a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in South Korea, he entered graduate school at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Ph.D. in American studies in 1984. He came to Brandeis in 1990, after teaching in the division of humanities at Boston University. His most recent book is Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (2013), from Columbia University Press. He serves on the editorial board of Cineaste and edits the film review section for the Journal of American History. He and his wife, Sandra, a freelance editor and fierce Pittsburgh Steelers fan, live in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. Campbell on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author should take a bow. He has written a wonderfully balanced, anecdotal-rich account of the simultaneous evolution of the Cold War, TV and political culture in the Age of McCarthy (which is, in all too many ways, an age we are still in.) That the junior senator from the cheeshead state was a craven opportunist is as well known now as it was even then, but what he exploited via the new electronic medium was the pervasive fear that subversion lurked behind every vacuum tube as well as behind every State Department desk.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cold War, Cool Medium is a terrific and compulsively readable study of McCarthyism in the context of the early history of television. Doherty astutely establishes the way televison worked in its formative days. Then he shows how its weaknesses aided in the rise of McCarthy and how both its strengths and weaknesses aided in his fall. Superb and easiy to read history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William D. Geerhart on November 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
In his 2003 book, "Cold War, Cool Medium," author Thomas Doherty brings together all of the most interesting media stories of the early Cold War. From HUAC to The Defenders, it is all here and written in an extremely engaging and frequently amusing style. My favorite stories concern the actor from "The Goldbergs" who became the victim of the Red Channels crowd, the history of "I Led 3 Lives" and the analysis of the movies "The Next Voice You Hear" and "Red Planet Mars." Mr. Doherty does an expert job of explaining these two films that share the gimmick of God communicating through the airwaves. There are a lot of books that deal with Cold War media, but this is one of the best, if not THE best. If you are a student looking for a great resource or someone who simply enjoys reading great writing about this era, I cannot recommend this book more strongly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an insightful and elegantly-written book about a period of time in American history where popular myth often trumps actual events. The author sets the record straight in a painstakingly-researched work, bolstered by expert prose which is extremely entertaining in its own right, greatly enhancing the interesting subject which it covers.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a little more information and insight into many television firsts in the areas of politics, religion, and social affairs. Extremely enjoyable to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marc W. Schneider on December 29, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The premise of the book is that TV was both complicit in the rise of McCarthyism and also a prime contributor to its downfall. The author shows how the blacklist was established and enforced in both the movie and TV industries and yet was also consistently undermined by the force of public opinion. For example, the discussion of how Lucille Ball-the star of the top-rated TV show "I Love Lucy"-was able to overcome suspicions of communist ties showed how TV could generate its own dynamic more powerful than a political movement. Moreover, while McCarthyism was largely about enforcing conformity in all aspects of American life, TV's need to appeal to the broadest segment of consumers undercut this to some extent by showing groups that had previously been marginalized.

At the same time, the book shows that McCarthyism-a phenomenon that was larger than the Senator-was truly sinister. The kinds of things that were considered "unAmerican" expanded to include incredibly innocuous things. Basically, anything that cast any doubt on the wisdom, honesty, or fairness of American government of business became verboten in the hysteria over Communist influence. At the same time, the author is fair enough to recognize that actual communism as practiced in Eastern Europe was a dangerous ideology that restricted human freedom.

In addition to this book, I would also recommend "The Culture of the Cold War" by Stephen J. Whitfield, which is referenced in this book.
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