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Homeward Bound: American Families In The Cold War Era
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Homeward Bound: American Families In The Cold War Era

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  780 ratings  ·  38 reviews
In the 1950s, the term ”containment” referred to the foreign policy-driven containment of Communism and atomic proliferation. Yet in Homeward Bound May demonstrates that there was also a domestic version of containment where the ”sphere of influence” was the home. Within its walls, potentially dangerous social forces might be tamed, securing the fulfilling life to which po ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 14th 1990 by Basic Books (first published 1988)
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Perhaps my expectations were poorly formed, but I found the chapter which dealt with the aftermath of World War II, “War and Peace: Fanning the Home Fires,” to be somewhat uneven. May quite thoroughly lays out the occupational and economic changes for women workers both during and after the war. Her insight on the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) and the Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) is equally pertinent to a discussion of the contribution women made to the war effo ...more
Rick Roseberry
For those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in American suburbia, Elaine Tyler May’s Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era provides a walk down memory lane. While we all experienced the “duck and drop” drills at school and remember watching “I Love Lucy” and “Leave it to Beaver” on television, May has tied the international and domestic situations of the time together as cause and effect using her concepts of “containment” and “security.” She hypothesizes that when Truman ...more
Rebecca Dobrinski
Elaine Tyler May opened her book, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, with a description of a 1959 publicity stunt. A young couple, recently married, chooses to spend their honeymoon in a bomb shelter. Surrounded by consumer goods, the couple enters the bomb shelter for two weeks and will have nothing more for entertainment than canned goods and each other. As May writes in the introduction, the couple epitomizes the image of the post-war family as “isolated, sexually charged, ...more
A good read with great first-hand accounts on marriage, sex, family culture, and consumerism.
The 50s "was not, as common wisdom tells us, the last gasp of "traditional" family life with roots deep in the past. Rather, it was the first wholehearted effort to create a home that would fulfill virtually all its members' personal needs through an energized and expressive personal life." (11) This book offers that provocative thesis and some substantive support for its views (less so on the "energized and expressive personal life"). It is also a strong effort to dismiss the 50s as an ideal f ...more
Elaine May’s Homeward Bound asks why Americans made so much of family after World War Two. The book makes an important contribution in that it historicizes the mid-20th century family. May notes that, and this certainly speaks to my own experiences growing up toward the end of the Cold War, it is widely believed that the 1950s was the last hurrah of a longstanding form of the family. In fact, the turn to family after World War Two was precisely that, a turn, a change.

Homeward Bound starts relati
I’m currently taking a 20th Century America class (I’m Canadian..FYI) for school and it’s actually proving to be quite interesting. For part of the class, you have to do a non-fiction book report, from a set list, and I chose Homeward Bound by Elaine Tyler May for well, the reason above.

Focusing on families and family dynamics (the Baby Boom, women’s role in the family etc.) in America during the 50s and the Cold War Era, May is able to give a personal and informative look into the era. Using a
I will admit, I read this for a class and never would have picked it up otherwise. If you're into the Cold War, 1950s culture, or what life would be like without feminism, it's definitely a good read.

The Big Idea in the 50s was the containment of Communism. Elaine May takes this containment idea and writes about how it applied to pretty much everything. American was one contained place. For example, sexuality was okay, as long as it was contained within a marriage, but very not okay otherwise. T
Homeward bound is the classic examination of domesticity and the cold war. May argues that the ideals of domesticity fit within cold war ideologies of containment. The 1950s family must be understood within the larger political framework of the era. Dangerous scary threats to society like the atom bomb, female sexuality, and communism all needed to be contained. Early marriage with an erotic charge and plentiful reproduction contained the dangers of sexuality and offer a de-politicized shelter ...more
Dan Gorman
A very eloquent book, but it didn't contain any bombshell revelations about life and American anxieties in the 1950s. The passages on the anti-communist and anti-homosexual purges in the U.S. government were sad and eye-opening. The use of statistics was well apportioned, and May draws from several large-scale anthropological surveys of suburban life. Yet this book is not about all American families; really it is just about white, and mostly Christian, families.
Ana Zahra
Too disorganized, and never fully delivers on its promise to connect political containment with domestic containment, instead devolving into an account of the life of a housewife in the 1950s. This is interesting, but again not what was advertised.
Not for the casual reader, and not overburdened with new insights, this volume works best as a general overview of an already over-examined and over-documented decade.

a college-era read that has been collecting dust in a box. slightly dry, but an interesting glimpse into the past.
really interesting look at the politics (both public and private) of containment, gender roles in the nuclear family, and how those roles manifested themselves during wwII and the nuclear arms race. largely draws from a study done on new england couples at various points in their marriage at a time when the marriage age dropped and *everyone* was getting married. fascinating answers from the study highlight how sex was viewed before and during marriage for women vs. men, fidelity, womens' career ...more
It's an interesting analysis of the nuclear family and containment strategies during the cold war. The inclusion of responses from KLS interviews regarding work and marriage are enlightening and a bit disillusioning; it's amazing how many people stayed in unhappy marriages just because forming their own nuclear family structure was their only vision of happiness. The book is a bit repetitive and the chronology is ... totally skewed in places, but for what it's worth, it's still an interesting re ...more
Basically, this book is The Feminine Mystique rewritten in 1988 with a slightly broader focus and statistical support. It frequently polarizes gender roles (all women must work or all women must stay at home), relies heavily on longitudinal studies, is extremely anglo-centric, and uses scare quotes around words like "hotbed." Problematic on a number of levels. It is interesting, though, in broadly contextualizing Cold War American culture.
The perfect gift for the arm-chair, Cold War historian on your Christmas list (at last!!). This book links together US social and political history from 1940-1960s. Some great news archive photos of couples "honeymooning" in their bomb shelters and civil defense ads that link a stocked kitchen pantry to national security. There is also an extensive discussion of sexual and gender politics during the baby boom era.
This book maybe doesn't do quite as much with its material as I might hope, but the material alone is pretty great. In particular, it's pretty fascinating to hear the actual voices of '50s housewives.

Anyone interested in the history of women will be very interested in this book...and anyone who is not interested in such maybe should be required to read it.
I will admit that my perspective on this book is biased, as the author was my senior thesis advisor. I revisited the book and was blown away by how she manages to write ground-breaking academic work that is engaging and accessible. Homeward Bound is one of the few academic texts that I would suggest to people who aren't in academia. I love it.
Roy Rogers
excellent overview of the reactionary gender/family of the 1950s and early 1960s. key argument is that "Cold War" era gender norms were new, not a return to traditionalism. perhaps a bit too aggressively argued at moments, but generally quite powerful and convincing.
Jan 26, 2008 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, domestic goddesses
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this for a 20th Century American history class in college and I remember I really enjoyed it. It shed so much light on my parents' childhoods and my grandparents' prime time. Also very interesting from a women's history perspective.
Rachael MacLean
This is a fantastic and insightful look at the Cold War Family, and the epilogue on the post-911 world is fascinating and important. If you're interested in the social history of the 1950s this is a must-read. Loved it!
Excellent look at 1950s domestic ideologies and their relationship with Cold War politics. The edition I read also has an interesting epilogue connecting the post 9-11 period to Cold War rhetoric.
Oct 29, 2008 jacky rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to jacky by: Prof Ruffin
I read a huge chunk of this book for the interdisciplinary portion of my honors thesis in college. It was very interesting and I probably would have read more of it if I had had the time.
I just finished reading this for class. A very interesting look at marriage and familly life in the 1950s... Not quite the leave it to beaver image that we all envision!
good general overview of the cold war era. extremely repetitive to the point where i felt myself getting confused with what she was actually trying to convey.
Thought provoking analysis of the policy of communist containment and it's connection with the rise of the suburban 'cult of domesticity'.

If you can stay awake through it, an informative must-read for any mid-20th century historian. Probably not worth your average Joe's time.
An interesting and in-depth study of the American family and the "woman's role" in the 1950s and during the Cold War.
Incredibly dry reading but a valuable resource for research.
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