Recovery and renewal arrived on a flood tide that lifted all kinds of production—culture above all. This was the era that gave the world a new look: tail fins on new cars, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, new sounds like Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. New films like Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” Jack Kerouac had a hit with On the Road; he said: the “beat” in Beat poetry meant “sympathetic,” and now we get it. The postwar period in Luke Menand’s big book on The Free World is 1945 to the late ’60s: the American Century’s best quarter maybe, when the center of world civilization moved from Paris to New York and Los Angeles.Louis, or Luke, Menand.
Luke Menand has written a monumental catalog of The Free World that staggered, then strutted out of World War 2 in 1945. His subtitle is Art and Thought in the Cold War. You can read it now as a cultural history of the Short American Century – 25 or 30 years through the ’60s, about us when we were young, us at our best perhaps: voracious, experimental, out-reaching, networking the codes of an adolescent empire, launching ideas that would shape a vast array of baby-boomers. Minority liberations were dawning. Education and entitlement were expanding through the GI Bill and the SAT.
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