The Fifties

by David Halberstam

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The book The Fifties by David Halberstam is a historical accounting of the decade of the 1950s, a time that was rife with advancement both socially and technologically, but also with political and international unrest. This time period experienced rapid growth and changes in American culture, and the book follows those events closely. Let's examine some of the themes that Halberstam discusses in his book.

The American Dream

The American Dream is probably the prevailing theme of the book and of this time period. This idea had been introduced in earlier decades as the opportunity to advance yourself and gain wealth much like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller did in their time, but never had it been more prevalent than in the 1950s. After World War II, the US economy erupted and society as we know it changed. Many families had affordable housing because their fathers served in the war, and so they focused their pursuits on building wealth. As Halberstam claims in the preface to his book, instead of exercising political or societal revolutionary tendencies, people in this era sought economic revolutions, giving themselves a comfortable life and financial freedom.

The Development of Media

The development of media is another theme, because it rapidly spread throughout the 1950s. The advent of television and improvements in radio broadcast and other forms of media meant that information was being spread faster than ever before, and entertainment was now easy to come by. For the first time, people began using the television as a form of family entertainment, when it had earlier been relegated to broadcasting news and similar "boring" features. The radio had previously been the center of the home, but now the television became the unifying device.

The Sexual Revolution

Finally, the sexual revolution is a major theme. In a time that had previously been dominated by conservative values, youthful rebellion began expanding rapidly, giving rise to promiscuity and, eventually, the Baby Boom. Advancements in technological development led to things like birth control pills and abortifacients that made promiscuous behavior less daunting, and the social customs followed suit, changing rapidly.

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