American Dreams: The United States since 1945

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Overview

From bestselling historian H. W. Brands, an incisive chronicle of the events and trends that guided-and sometimes misguided-our nation from the A-bomb to the iPhone.

For a brief, bright moment in 1945, America stood at its apex, looking back on victory not only against the Axis powers but against the Great Depression, and looking ahead to seemingly limitless power and promise. What we've done with that power and promise over the past six decades is a vitally important and fascinating topic that has rarely been tackled in one volume, and never by a historian of H. W. Brands's stature.

As American Dreams opens, Brands shows us a country dramatically different from our own-more unequal in social terms but more equal economically, more religious and rural but also more liberal and more wholeheartedly engaged with the rest of the world. As he traces the changes we have gone through as a nation, he reveals the great themes and dreams that have driven America-the rising focus on individual rights and pleasures, the growing distance between our global goals and those of the rest of the world, and the inexorable dissolution of a shared sense of what it means to be American. In Brands's adroit hands, these trends unfold through a character-driven narrative that sheds brilliant light on the obvious highs and lows-from Watergate to the Berlin Wall, from Apollo 11 to 9/11, from My Lai to shock and awe. But he also chronicles the surprising impact of less celebrated events and trends. Through his eyes, we realize the sweeping significance of the immigration reforms of the 1960s, which gradually transformed American society. We come to grasp the vast impact of abandoning the gold standard in 1971, which enabled both globalization and the current financial crisis. We ponder the unnerving results of CNN's debut in 1979, which sped up the news cycle and permanently changed our foreign policy by putting its effects live on our TV screens.

Blending political and cultural history with his keen sense of the spirit of the times, Brands captures the national experience through the last six decades and reveals the still-unfolding legacy of dreams born out of a global cataclysm.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The title here doesn't fit: neither dreams nor the American psyche is the focus of this book, which is simply a solid introduction to American history since World War II. Pulitzer Prize finalist Brands (history, Univ. of Texas at Austin; Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) offers little that's new here, either in facts or in analysis. He dutifully covers all the bases but doesn't delve very deeply into anything. The information he includes about sports and culture feels tacked on to the main narrative, which is the usual rundown of political and world events but unfortunately narrated with little passion, as compared, for example, with a book with lots of historical information yet passionately conveyed, such as Sean Wilentz's decades-long history, The Age of Reagan, which covers much of this period. VERDICTDreams reads like a history textbook for the classroom, albeit better written than the K-12 variety. It would be best as a primer for high school students, undergraduates, or other readers in need of an acquaintance with recent history.—Michael O. Eshleman, Lebanon, OH
Publishers Weekly
Though this crisp, informal narrative overview of the last half-century of American history is long on story and short on analysis, it does its job well. Bringing his trademark clarity to the tales he tells, bestselling historian Brands (The First American) opens in post-Hiroshima days and closes in our own. He covers everything important, from politics and war to culture and society—civil rights, music, the baby boom, and the middle class. But it's hard to swallow the sappy conceit of Americans as “dreamers” with which Brands tries to thread the book together. “[T]he heart of America's dreams was the act of dreaming itself... it was encoded in the country's DNA from the beginning.” But what has dreaming to do with the cold war or the embarrassments of the Nixon and Clinton administrations or with the Great Recession? Americans' collective dramas may be on hold for the moment, Brands concludes, but individually, they are as ambitious as ever. Despite its thematic weakness, Brands's book is a fast-moving, reasonably comprehensive history of more than half a century of American history. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Two-time Pulitzer finalist Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 2008, etc.) accounts for the last seven decades of U.S. history. The author begins with "the war that never ended," as World War II shaded into the Cold War. The Soviets, though weakened by six years of bloodletting, were resolute enough to effectively seize half of Europe after the war-and to impose the blockade of Berlin that led not just to the celebrated airlift of 1948, but also to the pitted struggle of superpowers and their allies that continued for nearly half a century. "Stalin and communism supplanted Hitler and fascism as the enemies of America," Brands writes, and with that swap came the Red Scare, the HUAC and Joseph McCarthy. There was some actual shooting, too. The author ably investigates the international nature of the Korean War, which involved China and Russia as well as North Korea on one side and the United Nations and United States on the other. Amid all this, Brands charts the rise of the new trivialism and consumer-driven infantilism that saw, as one journalist noted, "shoppers carry Mickey Mouse satchels and briefcases bursting with Mickey Mouse soap, candy, playing cards, bridge favors, hairbrushes, chinaware, alarm clocks and hot-water bottles, wrapped in Mickey Mouse paper, tied with Mickey Mouse ribbon, and paid for out of Mickey Mouse purses with savings hoarded in Mickey Mouse banks. Brands's chronicle of the sweeping social-good legislative packages that passed through House and Senate during the administration of Lyndon Johnson will prove thrilling-but also sobering-for anyone contemplating the currentgridlock on Capitol Hill, while his account of the carefully planned rise of the Christian Right stands as an important warning. Necessarily cursory-will leave readers wanting more-but elegantly written and sharp.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202629
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/10/2010
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,459,771
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

H.W. Brands taught at Texas A&M University for sixteen years before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. His books include Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Traitor to His Class and The First American were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2011

    Highly Recommended!

    Excellent book. Very easy and engaging to read for even the most novice of history readers. The book begins just at the conclusion of WWII when the U.S. realizes that it is the "last country standing" in terms of nuclear weapons and military capacity. This new feeling of power resonates throughout the civilian population as Americans enjoy economic prosperity and owe their military and economic success to the "American Dream" of hard work and dedication to republican values. The onset of the Cold War creates new outlets of public opinion in both foreign and domestic policy matters. The book does a great job chronically the major political, social, military, and cultural events of the Cold War era such as the creation of NATO, civil rights movement, Korea and Vietnam conflicts, and eventuall collapse of the Soviet system in Europe. The U.S. now finds itself as truely the "last one standing" in a new and violent world of terrorism. The culminating point through the fifty plus years of historymaking is that Americans have and will continue to pursue their dreams in hopes of achieving the American Dream and creating a life for thier children that is better their own. Overall a very fast read and excellent time warp to each of the pivotal events from 1945 to the present.

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