The American Home Front 1941-1942

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Overview

In nearly three thousand BBC broadcasts over fifty-eight years, Alistair Cooke reported on America, revealing our country’s complexities and idiosyncrasies to a global audience. He was one of the most widely read and widely heard chroniclers of America - the Twentieth Century’s de Tocqueville.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Alistair Cooke, a newly naturalized American citizen, set out to see his country as it was undergoing monumental change. He wanted to ...

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The American Home Front: 1941-1942

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Overview

In nearly three thousand BBC broadcasts over fifty-eight years, Alistair Cooke reported on America, revealing our country’s complexities and idiosyncrasies to a global audience. He was one of the most widely read and widely heard chroniclers of America - the Twentieth Century’s de Tocqueville.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Alistair Cooke, a newly naturalized American citizen, set out to see his country as it was undergoing monumental change. He wanted to “see what the war had done to people, to the towns I might go through, to some jobs and crops, to stretches of landscape I loved and had seen at peace.” Working throughout the war, Cooke finished The American Home Front as the atomic bomb was being dropped on Hiroshima. His publisher thought there would be little interest in books on the war, so it was stuffed in a closet. It stayed there for almost sixty years, nearly forgotten, until it was unearthed shortly before Cooke’s death in 2004.

The American Home Front is a fascinating artifact, a charming travelogue, and a sharp portrait that shows America changing from civilian pursuits to military engagement, from the production of consumer goods to materials of war. It is also a unique record of American life. Cooke travels small highways, with their advertising signs and their local typography, in an age before the interstate highway system. He chronicles the regional glories he encounters, elements of long-lost culture such as his beloved soda fountains, and the reactions of the citizens, from indifference to grief, from opportunism to resilience under military threat. Filled with touching personal stories of the effects of war, from a Japanese family facing internment that tries to sell Cooke their car, to the experiences of the unemployed relocating in hopes of jobs in a gunpowder factory, The American Home Front is the work of an experienced, talented journalist; it is intelligent, touching, and funny.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
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
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871139399
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 327
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in England and educated at Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard, Alistar Cooke 1908-2004 became a U.S. citizen in 1941. He was awarded an honorary knighthood in 1973 and delivered the keynote address before both houses of Congress at the bicentennial celebrations in 1976. Cooke lived and worked in an apartment overlooking Central Park, where he raised his family and lived with his wife, Jane White, until his death.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2014

    Outstanding View of American Life

    Alistair Cooke gives you a clear picture of American life, emotion, strife, and pride in every corner of the U.S. I was convinced I lived during the war years thanks to his descriptions and interviews of the common people. One of the best books on U.S. History, and yet written by one from the UK.

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  • Posted January 10, 2009

    A great primary source for World War II

    I listened to the book on CD and I'm now ordering the hard copy. You're back in time with this author as he travels across American during WWII. It's a brilliant time capsule.

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