"In Men in the Middle, James Gilbert looks at an array of cultural figures and material from the 1950s that, as a whole, offers an exciting and entertaining illustration of the diversity of public images of masculinity during this period. This boldly revisionist study challenges the popular view that a 'crisis of masculinity' provoked by an increasingly 'feminized' culture constituted, for men, the decade's dominant theme. I warmly recommend this astute and pleasurable new interpretation of an often misunderstood period of postwar American life."
(Paul S. Boyer Paul S. Boyer
"Informative, entertaining, and overdue, Jim Gilbert's study of masculinity in the 1950s provides an important counterweight to our limited picture of cold war gender roles. Women may have been trapped in Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, but Gilbert returns us to The Lonely Crowd and 1950s fears that men, caught between John Wayne, Ozzie Nelson, and James Dean, faced their own definitional conundrums. In this carefully drawn study of the many masculine icons available to men in the 1950s, he quietly reminds us that most people get along and do just fine—and that stories of crises often make better copy than historical truth."
(Sharon Ullman Sharon Ullman
"Focusing on several iconic, yet under-appreciated, 50s-era figures, James Gilbert provides a timely corrective to the nostalgia-tainted stereotypes of mid-century masculinity. As confused as they were conformist, as restive as they were resigned to a bland suburban life, they were truly men in the middle. Something was happening, as Dylan would sing, and many of these Mr. Joneses knew just what it was."
(Michael Kimmel Michael Kimmel
"There is much to appreciate here, including a thoughtful analysis of the literature on the 'crisis' of masculinity in American history and some rich details about the debates over postwar conformity and mass culture."
(Stephanie Coontz American Historical Review
From the Inside Flap
While the 1950s have been popularly portrayed—on television and in the movies and literature—as a conformist and conservative age, the decade is better understood as a revolutionary time for politics, economy, mass media, and family life. Magazines, films, newspapers, and television of the day scrutinized every aspect of this changing society, paying special attention to the lifestyles of the middle-class men and their families who were moving to the suburbs newly springing up outside American cities. Much of this attention focused on issues of masculinity, both to enforce accepted ideas and to understand serious departures from the norm. Neither a period of "male crisis" nor yet a time of free experimentation, the decade was marked by contradiction and a wide spectrum of role models. This was, in short, the age of Tennessee Williams as well as John Wayne.
In Men in the Middle, James Gilbert uncovers a fascinating and extensive body of literature that showcases the problems and possibilities of expressing masculinity in the 1950s. Drawing on the biographies of men who explored manhood either in their writings or in their public personas, Gilbert examines the stories of several of the most important figures of the day-revivalist Billy Graham, playwright Tennessee Williams, sociologist David Riesman, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, Playboy literary editor Auguste Comte Spectorsky, and TV-sitcom dad Ozzie Nelson-and allows us to see beyond the inherited stereotypes of the time. Each of these stories, in Gilbert's hands, adds crucial dimensions to our understanding of masculinity the 1950s. No longer will this era be seen solely in terms of the conformist man in the gray flannel suit or the Marlboro Man.