23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A well-balanced overview of America's most troubled era,
This review is from: Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (Oxford History of the United States) (Paperback)James Patterson has assembled the most comprehensive survey of contemporary American history. With the Cold War as the backdrop, he guides the reader through a tumultuous period that took in two wars and the Civil Rights movement. He amply describes the nature of these conflicts and the impact they had on American society. The leading figures are brought into focus, as well as the crucial events of the periods such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. He weaves in a wide variety of cultural issues such as religion, noting how it has influenced successive administrations. He ends the period with the downfall of Nixon, who appears throughout the book from his involvement in the House anti-American investigations, to his vice-presidency under Eisenhower to his subsequent presidency. It is a well-rounded account and a wonderful addition to the Oxford History of the United States.
What was most interesting to me was the powerful influence religion had on our society and the conflicts that arose during the Civil Rights movement and the Age of Aquarius. Patterson noted that Americans remained the most devoted church-goers throughout the troublesome 60's. The church became the rallying point of the Civil Rights movement, and also served as the bastion of white supremacy. Such contradictions made for volatile conflicts as each side felt it had the moral upper hand. The seemingly all-pervasive drug culture may have captured the public's imagination, but by and large America remained a nation of social conservatives.
Patterson provides good overviews of the Korean and Vietnam wars, tying them into the ideology of the Cold War. He shows the seamless pattern that ran through these conflicts, as well as other conflicts in which the US found itself embroiled in during its effort to defeat communism. The costly battles left millions of Asians dead and no clear victories, tarnishing the reputation we had achieved after WWII as the champion of democracy. He illustrates how each president from Truman to Nixon tried to avoid these conflicts, but somehow could never shake the "Losing China syndrome."
It is a well-documented book covering a tremendous amount of ground. Patterson steers clear of polemics, opting for a well-balanced assessment of the era. Naturally when one takes on such a broad subject, certain discrepencies do arise, but there are no glaring errors, and the book has a narrative grace that leads the reader effortlessly through the tumultuous events.