Robert W's Reviews > The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-72

The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester
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Sep 18, 2007

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Read in July, 2007

A two volume history of the U.S. from 1932 to 1974. Manchester confesses to being a “generational chauvinist”; the generation in question being the World War II generation. These volumes are very readable, and while some of the information has been contradicted or made more complete by subsequent findings, overall it is very useful. What seems weird to me, as a man a generation or two younger than Manchester, is his emphasis. He gives a lot of ink to sixties radical personages like Angela Davis, and the events surrounding their lives. I think a man writing in the mid-70s of his generation must have seen these people as really important, in the same way, say, that Barry Goldwater or Adlai Stevenson were important. But it’s hard to see that today—the 60s radicals were interesting, and in some parts of the world (France and Germany, for instance) important figures then and in the future. But unlike the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, 60s radical didn’t actually succeed in changing our society in any major way (except the feminist movement), nor did they gain temporal power. In this case, he overestimates the 60s and the baby boomers (some of their representatives of them). But he misunderstands the cultural changes wrought by this generation—the importance of music to them (he can’t quite see the importance of Elvis, for whom he has an irrational loathing, and of rock in general), the way they greatly relaxed generations of rigid taboos, whether consequential (the role of women and non-white persons in society) or trivial (the idea that men don’t have to wear a tie). These are minor and slightly unfair criticisms of a highly engrossing book. Reading about the Roosevelt administration here is especially interesting—probably the best part of the book. His attempt to write an encyclopedic book about everything that happened in America is an overreach, but an honorable one.
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