From the Publisher
A New York Times Bestseller
“An unexpected and welcome discovery in a time capsule. . . . even after all these years, and all those countless previous books about the wartime home front, Cooke has interesting things to tell us.” Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“He filed lated, but boy, did he get it right.” William Grimes, The New York Times
“The American Home Front teems with Cooke’s eloquence and insight
. His whole book is a tale told with easy elegance.” Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Here are the antecedents of who we are now, grasped with a clarity and foresight that is all the more stunning for having been hidden away in a closet for nearly sixty years.” Verlyn Klinkenborg, Bookforum
Crisscrossing the American continent from east to west and north to south, stopping in diners and bus stations and newly humming industrial plants, Mr. Cooke brings to life an America stepping into the unknown, committing its muscle and blood to an enterprise that most citizens could barely articulate, in places most of them had never heard of. On Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Cooke writes, "a lot of people were left sitting in their homes not 'stunned' as the newspapers have it but fuzzily wondering where Pearl Harbor was."
The New York Times
In this blend of history and social commentary, British American journalist Cooke (1908-2004) sets out on a cross-country trip complicated by wartime restrictions on tires and gasoline to obtain a true portrait of an America in transition from the Great Depression to World War II. As a reporter, Cooke wanted to escape the official propaganda coming out of New York and Washington, DC. On his journey, he encountered lonely soldiers looking for fun on a Saturday night in Louisville, KY; thousands of workers migrating to a new munitions factory in Indiana; and interned Japanese Americans housed in primitive camps. This book is more than a pointillist snapshot of a vanished America replete with folksy anecdotes. Cooke did not sentimentalize what he encountered but, instead, offered an outsider's keen perception. His account of the industrial uses of the common orange is intriguing. His deft use of language can be seen through metaphor. The author's son, John Byrne, does an excellent job; his cadences are well measured, and he adjusts his voice slightly to convey the ethnicity of the various interviewees, whom his father quotes exactly. As this is an evocative time capsule and travelog, it's recommended for public libraries wishing to supplement their World War II collections. David Faucheux, Louisiana Audio Information & Reading Svc., Lafayette Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Revealing portrait of America in the early years of WWII. Those who remember English-born Cooke as the avuncular and courtly host of Masterpiece Theatre may be surprised to learn that he was ever young-and that, as a young journalist, he had few illusions about his adoptive land. Reporting for the BBC's Home and Empire Services, Cooke took off from New York long after Pearl Harbor to see what this giant ally would mean to Britain, and he opens apologetically, since Britain had been fighting alone for two years. Asking his listeners to hear tales of "American sacrifice," he admits, "must have seemed as if we were asking you to take out your handkerchief and weep for a very rich man who had mislaid a favorite diamond ring." He is duly incensed when he heads west and discovers wealthy playboys playing golf and sunning themselves poolside in places like Tucson and Los Angeles; he is scornful when he meets gringos who deride their Mexican neighbors for being dirty and disease-ridden; he is astonished by the "fact that most regions of the country, passionately knowledgeable about their own characteristics, and patient in helping the stranger refine his knowledge of them, yet show the blandest ignorance of what goes on thirty or 100 miles away." Yet Cooke is also mindful of sacrifices made, among them the disruptions suffered by the commandeering of civilian transport to the federal rationing program, which forced one West Texas rancher to get back on a horse after years of riding the range in a truck ("Of course," says another, "the cows don't know the war's on"). Americans being Americans, he notes in a 1945 postscript, that rationing begat a huge "black market in meat [that] was so nowexpertly organized that its profits far outshone the amateur take of the liquor lords of the 20s."A vivid, endlessly interesting view of the home front.