Aidan’s been rich in paper assignments these days. Last night, we worked on a research paper for his history class.
He’s looking at the social changes in America during the 1960s through the lense of music, youth protests against the war in Vietnam and the fight to end segregation.
In the paper’s first section, he’s worked to establish the behavioral baseline against which the change should be measured. Aidan’s arguing that the 1950s were a period of comparative tranquility, docility and conformity.
He’s drawn heavily on David Halberstam’s The Fifties, a comprehensive overview of the decade that also led to a PBS series by the same name.
Halberstam is a journalism hero of mine. The range of his subjects, depth of reporting, writing ability and productivity each are extraordinarily impressive. Put together in one person, they are nearly awe-inspiring.
At a memorial event for him shortly after his untimely death in 2007, Alex Kotlowitz spoke both about Halberstam’s generosity to him as a young writer and how The Best and the Brightest was passed around like a sacred text by war correspondents in Iraq after the recent war began in 2003.
Halberstam came of age during the Fifties, and while you can feel his passion for each of the books he has written, I picked up a special love for the decade of his adolescence.
Readers of The Coldest Winter, his final book, will find his look at the Korean War less thorough than that tome. But that’s not the purpose of this work, which takes us through the years of McCarthy, Truman, Eisenhower, MacArthur, the rise of suburbia, the integration of Little Rock, and the ascent of television.
Part of Halberstam’s genius was his ability to synthesize huge gobs of information and then convey them in ways that transmitted what he wanted to know while also giving the reader a flavor of the times and the people who made them.
Aidan will soon be done with his paper, and Halberstam’s book is worth a look whenever one has the time to give to it.