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The Fifties

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  3,291 Ratings  ·  301 Reviews
The Fifties is a sweeping social, political, economic, and cultural history of the ten years that Halberstam regards as seminal in determining what our nation is today. Halberstam offers portraits of not only the titans of the age: Eisenhower Dulles, Oppenheimer, MacArthur, Hoover, and Nixon, but also of Harley Earl, who put fins on cars; Dick and Mac McDonald and Ray Kroc ...more
Paperback, 816 pages
Published May 10th 1994 by Ballantine Books (first published 1993)
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Jul 30, 2008 Terry rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I just love this book. I've read it before but I have it on my nightstand now, probably as a result of the confluence between "Mad Men" being back on AMC (oh my goodness, WHAT is going on with Betty?!) and my parents' ongoing Great PreDeath Cleanout of Books. It's a great book for just dipping into and reading; you can easily skip around, and/or just read the chapters that intrigue you. I have to say I find the book rather slapdash in that sense--the chapters usually are stand-alone essays rathe ...more
Jason Reeser
Aug 11, 2013 Jason Reeser rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So David Halberstam, a winner of The Norman Mailer Prize and the Pulitzer prize, was unable to keep from writing historical tomes without filling them with his own, subjective views on the world. That tells me something about those prizes, that's for certain.
According to Halberstam, the movies of the fifties can be summed up in Brando's performance of A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean's performance in Rebel Without a Cause. Considering the wide range of movies produced in that era this tel
Erik Graff
Apr 22, 2011 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Everything I've ever read by David Halberstam has been rewarding and everything, except his early and probably most important book, The Best and the Brightest, has been a sheer pleasure. The Best and the Brightest reads most like an academic history. His other history books are more popular in their style, flowing like collections of short stories on a single theme.

The Fifties interested me because that was Dad's decade. He was in his thirties, done with school, back from Europe with a war-bride
Oct 11, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
The 1950s is a seminal decade in the history of our nation. Some of the things that people believe about it are true, but by no means all. It was fun to read David Halberstam's book The Fifties, and it brought back a flood of memories.

When I look back on the decade, what I remember most was my fear of thermonuclear war, which looked like a distinct possibility after Sputnik was launched in 1957 and Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 aircraft were downed by the Russians in 1959. I was in my middle
Schuyler Wallace
Sep 12, 2013 Schuyler Wallace rated it it was amazing
David Halberstam’s reflective THE FIFTIES is a wonderful return to my formative years. I graduated from high school, went to college, got married, and had two children, all in the Fifties. Halberstam caught it all; not my personal story, but the events that occurred and their impact on life during that lively decade.

Halberstam, the noted historian, journalist, and writer who died in a tragic car accident in 2007, remains one of my favorite writers because of his versatility. It’s difficult to pu
Rick Silberman
Sep 08, 2013 Rick Silberman rated it it was amazing
I seriously loved this book. I'm not sure how much of that has to do with having come of age in the fifties, but I found Halberstam's narrative to fulfill that secret desire that most of us have to be flies on the wall in the inner sanctums of government and power when and where the decisions are made that affect the course of history. He really does a good job of shining a microscope on all the major events, both cultural and political, that in many ways set the tone of my life and the life of ...more
Feb 24, 2013 Terry rated it it was amazing
If you happen to love American History as much as I do, please read this fabulous book! I just completed the 3rd re-read of David Halberstam's in depth look at the culture of the 1950's. Aside from the fact that he was a marvelous writer (who is sorely missed) -- Mr. H tells us everything we should know about America in the mid 20th century. How (and why) Playboy got started, how Walmart came into being, the alienation caused by the deluge of white-bread television that fostered the myth of the ...more
Bobby D
Aug 29, 2014 Bobby D rated it it was amazing
It has occupied 2 inches of my bookcase for close to 20 years. THE FIFTIES is Halberstam’s 732 page grand epic of American history published in 1993 which covers all things political, cultural, social, and economic for the decade most often thought of as the “good old days”. Here we have the cold war, space, Levittown, suburbia, Television, Ozzie and Harriet, I love Lucy, Elvis, the Kinsey report, Castro, the CIA, U2 flights, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, McCarthy, Eisenhower vs Ta ...more
Carol Storm
Jun 01, 2015 Carol Storm rated it liked it
Halberstam writes like a fuddy-duddy who has no respect for Elvis Presley, or James Dean, or for anything connected with the glory days of early rock and roll.

On the other hand, there's some fascinating information about the early space program, in America and the USSR, the birth of the Civil Rights movement, and even the quiz show scandals on television.

It was ironic, Carol Storm often thought, that a man as pompous and pedantic as Halberstam was drawn so often to write about turbulent times
Apr 05, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Woot! I'm finally finished with this book! Every week my history teacher would assign my class a certain amount of pages due the following Monday, and every week I would wait until the Saturday and Sunday to read the 100-200 pages. Which meant that I would be forced to read those pages in one go, which took about 4-5 hours. Luckily, this book was interesting and enjoyable to read. Now, I'm sure all you non-history lovers would be fainting and cringing in disgust at the idea of having to read a h ...more
Dec 18, 2012 Darrel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Halberstam's epic masterpiece is a colossal historic narrative of the 50's that combines his usual incisive social commentary with sharp insight, weaving together seamlessly throughout. Always lively and analytical, The Fifties is arranged so well chronologically that it has a cinematic feel to it. It is easy for the reader to visualize the activity in each of the chapters - and it becomes addictive, compulsive reading after a short while.

The main, or overarching theme, of the book that he retu
Aug 21, 2013 Scott rated it liked it
Halverstam, prolific and erudite, wrote a serious book coupled with a popular culture book in series through twenty-two volumes. The Fifties was his pop book published in '93 in between The Next Century and October, 1964.

The Fifties, given its subtext, doesn't require the fiery drive or the coruscating words of his power / politics books, and instead takes us through an amble across a decade. Halberstam's goal is to illuminate an era that he grew up in, one where the world changed from bucolic
Aug 12, 2013 S. rated it really liked it
very, very impressive 4, really pushing the 5. if GR permitted the half star, 4.5 off the bat, and under consideration for a possible upgrade. David Halberstam, lifetime journalist, made his name at the age of 35 in 1969 with The Best and the Brightest--examining what was then, in those more hierarchal and establishment times, the 'paradox' of the nation's best intellectuals and minds leading the country into an unwinnable war. although there was a minor echo of this phenomenon with the Enron Sc ...more
Oct 13, 2014 Sandra rated it really liked it
A huge book. It was actually difficult to read because it was so heavy. While I found parts rather ponderous, and was tempted to skip through them, to my credit I hung in there. As a child of the fifties, growing up in a family that was determinedly unworldly and disinterested in current affairs, I have little recall or understanding of the events that shaped my world, so this book filled some very big and very sorry gaps in my education. The election of 1952? I remember wearing a button that sa ...more
carl  theaker
Sep 24, 2010 carl theaker rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history

Always liked Halberstam's style, makes history real fun reading. Areas I really liked
were the start of the franchises that we take today as just being part of the
woodwork, and often derisively so.

However when McDonalds, Holiday Inn and the like got started there was
a real need for their services, a clean, cheap place to feed the family, and
reliable place to stay. Fascinating how they grew and grew. I recall
going on an Indian Guides field trip when I was a little kid to
McDonalds and they show
Aug 28, 2007 Erin rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I tried. I really did. I wanted to be a good person and finish this book. But I just couldn't....I just got too bogged down in the details, and I think that I really needed the Cliff's Notes version. The writing was good, but the subject matter just wasn't for me. I still feel the shame.
Apr 08, 2015 Pete rated it it was amazing
had been pecking away at this in the ten minutes before the sleep gremlins take me to dreamland for the better part of a year, finally got obsessed with finishing it this past week. it's outstanding. halberstam had a rare and special gift for seeing news as history and the other way around. eisenhower in particular comes off both heroic in his desire for peace and a naive grouch in his reluctance/inability to be a politician. halberstam nicely sketches the weird tragedy of a cold war escalation ...more
Feb 15, 2011 George rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dtb-only

“It was, in fact, an astonishing age of abundance…”—page 496

Reading David Halberstam’s book, ‘The Fifties,’ was like visiting with a long lost friend. The memories weren’t always pleasant, but they were always precious. Pity the reader who wouldn’t like to revisit the greatest decade in the history of forever: the decade that bracketed most of their teenage years.

Recommendation: For anyone who [fondly] remembers the 1950s; even those of us who never really did believe that ‘
Apr 05, 2011 Diane rated it really liked it
This is a comprehensive history of post-World War II America, covering political, economic, and social developments of the period. The book is very accessible to the general reader, and the author does a good job of showing how the 1950s represented both continuity and change in American life. My only complaint about the book is its organization; the chapters ranged from politics to economics to social life and then back to politics again. I think the book could have been arranged topically, and ...more
Oct 15, 2015 Pmacke rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
at some point deep within the book, the author questions as to why the decade of the 50s is now viewed as so noble and innocent to which he concludes (paraphrasing): "it's not that it actually WAS better or more noble, rather, all references to the 50s are always about its noble and innocent aspects" ... so too I came to find this book, for while it's cover (the up-close shot of a 50s auto tailfin) promised a look at the cultural and societal icons of the decade, it takes a much deeper look ... ...more
Dec 01, 2014 Ben rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adulthood

I loved how this book was broken up into small mini-biography vignettes. My favorites were about the rise of companies like McDonald's and Holiday Inn. Then the book would change course and give a detailed analysis of General MacArthur's reckless charge toward China during the Korean Conflict. I recently finished the huge Elvis biography and was impressed by how quickly Halberstam captured his character. It made me feel like he truly knew the people he was writing about.

The structure
Quinn Collard
Oct 19, 2015 Quinn Collard rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2015
I read this book because I'm writing a novel set in the '50s and I wanted to learn as much about the period as I could, and it certainly did teach me a lot. I found the author's lack of objectivity (giving very strong opinions about different people) interesting.

My only frustration with the book was the lack of attention paid to women. I understand that in certain areas of life (e.g. politics) there just weren't many prominent women to discuss, but it seemed like there were other chapters when
Apr 12, 2016 Rock rated it liked it
Goddamn, it seems as though anyone who wanted to be emphatic in the 50s preceded their statement with the word 'goddamn.' The author of this highly readable survey of the USA in the 1950s is a master of the choice quote and anecdote, but anyone looking for a thesis or grand narrative will be disappointed. Not much depth or context but I suppose that wallowing in nostalgia was more the point.
CV Rick
Dec 19, 2009 CV Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was a remarkable sweeping description of an entire decade that shaped postwar America. Political, Entertainment, and Industrial changes that propelled America into the role of global superpower. I loved how Halberstam weaved together all the threads that made the fabric of the world in which we live. From nuclear research to Milton Berle, from Eisenhower to McDonald's, from the creation of hotel chains starting with Holiday Inn to the grand investigations into communism at every level of go ...more
Oct 23, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
If anyone ever asks me for a good book recommendation, and they're OK with nonfiction, this is the book I tell them to get. Absolutely essential reading.
Robert Hays
May 23, 2013 Robert Hays rated it it was amazing
Maybe it's because it was the decade in which I came of age, but for whatever reason the 1950s always has seemed to me one of the most dynamic periods in American history. There was a lot going on! Halberstam captures it all, in fascinating detail,and puts things into a rich context that adds new perspective at every turn. This is a thick book you won't read straight through, but the careful, articulate reporting (a Halberstam trademark) will keep you coming back for more. The Fifties is a perma ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it
I loved this social, cultural, political, and economic history of the 1950s. Each of the chapters can stand alone and readers can read all 730 pages straight through or skip around to find topics of their interest. The rise of the Cold War, the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, the growth of suburbs, McDonald's, Holiday Inns, rock and roll, Eisenhower, and McCarthy--it's all in here. The stories range from entertaining, to depressing, to uplifting and the mini-biographies are fascinating. ...more
Todd Stockslager
May 31, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: His stories about the Fifties
My title for this review works both ways.

--Halberstam writes in classic narrative history style when tackling a subject as a broad as a decade. He doesn't limit his topics to politics, wars, economics or "great people" biographies, but tells the history of the decade in stories about television (then reshaping marketing. news and entertainment with its always-on eye in a growing number of households), music (Elvis made "race music" safe for white teena
Feb 17, 2015 Mike rated it liked it
Apr 07, 2014 Randy rated it it was amazing
I’m wondering why it took me so long to dive into one of Halberstam’s books. The guy is a great journalist and story teller who has been well-known since the Vietnam war. The Fifties is a five star book for a lot of reasons. The decade of the fifties marks my years in grade school through high school. I thought it was pretty boring at the time but, my God, an awful lot of interesting stuff and fascinating people marched through the decade:
Korean War, MacArthur, Truman, Oppenheimer, Ike, Adlai, E
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David Halberstam (April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War and his later sports journalism.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for
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“He did not like Europe, which he regarded as a lesser continent, populated with people significantly greedier and more materialistic than Americans. It was a place, he noted, where” 2 likes
“They cut the menu from twenty-five items to nine, featuring hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and they made the burgers a little smaller—ten hamburgers from one pound of meat instead of eight.” 2 likes
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