Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 17

Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1971. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. xviii + 829 ppg.

            Another entry in the growing line of the Oxford History of the United States, Grand Expectations covers the post WWII era through the beginning of the Watergate years for the Nixon administration. James T. Patterson earned the Bancroft Prize for this entry. He managed to explain the dizzying heights that Americans reached for before coming to grips with the problems that limited that grasp. He conveyed how Americans saw themselves after the worst war in world history as saviors of democracy. He then contrasted that with some of the views the rest of the world held of the US in many cases. 

            The book is a fabulous compilation of the various types of history the US went through in this time. The emerging field of social history is on full display in the book which manages to add to the complexity of the true story of this time period. The ugly clash of conservatism versus liberalist is shockingly apparent as well as the realization that both parties used communism and dissension as weapons against each other. However, as the country began to develop a conscience over the concept of equality, the forces split on the issue with both parties undergoing a transformation in the 1960-70 years which would result in the Reagan conservatism of the 1980s and beyond. 
            Patterson shines with his explanation of the Civil Rights movement and doesn’t pull punches as he describes the brutality of southern whites in suppressing the civil rights of the black minority. The sheer ugliness of one group of people using violence to deny equality to another is vivid. He also covered the insanity of the anti-communism years as both parties used Red Scare tactics to rally party faithful in their platforms. Later he would detail how this fear factor would move headlong into standard GOP political tactics in his sequel to Grand Expectations; Restless Giant.

            All in all, the book is a good and detailed explanation of how America moved during these years and fell into the morass known as Vietnam over time. In the process the country finds the rest of the world catching up economically and politically in many ways while America battled its own internal demons. The twin forces of egalitarianism and liberty are shown in their full panoramic view for it was during this time that equality for all truly began to be realized after its budding beginning in the American Revolution.

            It is definitely a worthy inclusion in the Oxford series and one most historians will want on their shelves. It is useable in many classes covering the period, especially the survey classes or any other ones that need information from the period. I use it in my own American film history class as context material for the students. The result is historical information meant to be read by any level of adult audience interested in American history.

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