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The Fifties Reprint Edition

545 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0449909331
ISBN-10: 0449909336
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Paperback, May 10, 1994
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Editorial Reviews Review

"In retrospect," writes David Halberstam, "the pace of the fifties seemed slower, almost languid. Social ferment, however, was beginning just beneath this placid surface." He shows how the United States began to emerge from the long shadow of FDR's 12-year presidency, with the military-industrial complex and the Beat movement simultaneously growing strong. Television brought not only situation comedies but controversial congressional hearings into millions of living rooms. While Alfred Kinsey was studying people's sex lives, Gregory Pincus and other researchers began work on a pill that would forever alter the course of American reproductive practices. Halberstam takes on these social upheavals and more, charting a course that is as easy to navigate as it is wide-ranging.

From Library Journal

The Fifties were more than just a mid-point decade in a century; they were to be the crucible in which the rest of the 20th century was forged. Halberstam ( The Next Century , LJ 1/92) here touches every thread in the warp and woof of the national fabric. This is the true drama of history: President Truman's firing of General Douglas MacArthur, the Eisenhower years, Senator Joe McCarthy's red-baiting, the early U.S. involvement in Indochina, the H-bomb, the purging of atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Supreme Court ordering the integration of schools, troops in Little Rock to enforce it, the Montgomery bus boycott, the rise of Martin Luther King, Russia's sputnik launch, and Castro's revolutionary Cuba. Halberstam also explores major social and cultural changes--the advent of national television, fast-food restaurants, the flight to the suburbs, huge cars with fins, the phenomenon of Elvis Presley, the contraceptive pill, and much more. A superb book; recommended for all libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/93.
- Chet Hagan, Berks Cty. P.L. System, Pa.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (May 10, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449909336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449909331
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (545 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has chronicled the social, political, and athletic life of America in such bestselling books as The Fifties, The Best and the Brightest, and The Amateurs. He lives in New York.

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#47 in Books > History
#47 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

216 of 218 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a delightful and encyclopedic survey of the major events and personalities in the United States in the 1950s. The title is, therefore, a bit of a misnomer. The book is not about the decade on a global scale, but merely the fifties in America. Halberstam writes of the decade in a clear, fast-moving prose, and despite the books enormous bulk, is actually a remarkably fast read.
Halberstam offers no explicit themes or theses, but if there is an overarching implicit theme, it is the Fifties not as a time of innocence as frequently assumed, but a time of viciousness, meanness, and loss of whatever remaining innocence American might possess. Indeed, the book ends with Eisenhower looking at Nixon and Kennedy, and exclaiming that he didn't like either of them.
What THE FIFTIES primarily does is hold up a mirror to the fifties, and reflects the major events and especially the major figures of the decade. In fact, while specific events do receive attention, the book is essentially a succession of character sketches, and even the major events themselves are discussed through focusing on particular individuals. What is amazing is what a satisfactory job Halberstam does of writing about both unfamiliar and famous individuals.
By and large, Halberstam deals with just about every major figure one would expect. If I had any complaints--and these would be minor--I would argue that some major art forms received almost no attention in the book. For instance, while he has a full chapter on the bestseller PEYTON PLACE and writes about pulp master Micky Spillane, there is no discussion of any major writers. Nor does he write about cinema in general (though James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe receive attention), or changes in art.
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88 of 93 people found the following review helpful By SUPPORT THE ASPCA. on February 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
Honestly, this book should be required reading for all of our high school students. It is far better than any traditional school texts we had covering this era. "The Fifties," is a finely written history of the decade that the author considers "seminal in determining what our nation is today."

The author combines a very engaging historical narrative with deep social commentary that illuminates the controversial & complex events & people which made the 1950's so important to the USA. From the unexpected victory of Harry Truman over Republican rival Thomas Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election, the Korean War, the firing of General Douglass MacArthur, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, the Sputnik satellite launch 1957, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, & the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. To the rise of Senator Mccarthy, Khrushev, & Fidel Castro taking over Cuba in 1959.

Mr. Halberstam argues persuasively that despite, its tranquill facade, that the 1950's was a time of huge social upheavel. He goes about this by pointing out the laeders of the anti-establishment movement. Such as Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, & the Beatniks. The latters philosophy would come to full bloom in the "hippie" culture of the 1960's. The influence of Katherine Mccormick & Margeret Sanger led to strides in birth control & Feminism. While Television helped the Alpha entertainment careers of Steve Allen, Cid Caeser, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, & Milton Berle. TV also helped popularize the Meteoric popularity of Rock & Roll & its main icon Elvis Presley & the new fast food culture. Which saw the steady growth of the original California based McDonalds Hamburger chain after the McDonald brothers sold it to entrepeneur Ray Kroc.

Lastly, this was the decade that saw the huge rise in the interstate highway system that led to our car culture & enabled millions of Americans to travel around the country easier than ever before.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Newton Ooi on February 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
What is it about the 1950's that so many Americans cherish? Is it the homespun food of apple pie and burgers devoid of GM products, foreign influences and weight concerns? Or is it the large cars made possible by cheap gas? Maybe its the music; a lot of new and exciting stuff, but without the undertones of death, government corruption, street violence and broken families... Maybe it is all of this and more, for the 50's represent to many the last decade in which everything seemed to fit together and all was well in the USA. David Halberstam, journalist par excellence, examines this most pivotal of decades and reveals all that festered under the surface, waiting to blow in the following decades.

This book examines the whos, whats and whys of various political, economic, social, and cultural events of the 1950s. The important things covered touch upon every US state, both political parties, and individuals from Washington D.C. to tenant black farmers in the deep South. Some of these topics include Elvis, McCarthyism, the rising civil rights movement, suburbanization, Iran, the rise of JFK, the spread of TV, and the dawning of the space race.

One of the best points of this book is how the author connects events in the 1950s with history that would come later. One example; Halberstam looks at the Red-baiting of McCarthy and shows how the fallout over this one episode would set the tones of many public careers over the ensuing decades, such as future president Nixon. Another good example provided by the book; the US CIA orchestrated the overthrow of Iran's first ever elected president because he wouldn't give the British a good enough deal on Iranian oil. This event would begin several decades of an American foreign policy that sold out democracy for corporate gains.
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