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Beers' powerful memoir recounts his family's world, the world of middle-class suburbia, from Sputnik to the present, and writes of the great institutions--the government, the multinational corporations, the church, the suburban tract home neighborhood--in which his family put their faith, and how that faith was betrayed.
The technocratic "scientific-technological elites" that Eisenhower criticized while excoriating military industrialism became the heroic warriors of Kennedy's New Frontier: white-collar, white male engineers and rocket scientists who flocked from crumbling industrial cities to aerospace communities like Houston, Seattle, and Silicon Valley. Beers's father, Hal, a naval aviator who sacrificed his dream of being a test pilot to become a Lockheed engineer, was among them. He was an organization man whose career "traced perfectly the arc of the Cold War aerospace industry," fueled by Pentagon spending and anticommunist ideology. And his growing disaffection with the corporate bargain is posited, convincingly, as an analog for Americans' discontent with a social contract eroded by downsizing and by stagnating wages. "Blue Sky" is Beers's term for the sunny optimism of his parents' generation, which placed unmitigated faith in progress and corporations; in the safe, managed life of their sterile suburbs; in the forgiving, rather than wrathful, God of his mother's New Catholicism. Beers has a keen eye for the sociocultural derivations of tribal behavior. Deconstructing such diverse phenomena as television in the 1960s and ranch-house design, Beers demonstrates an engaging, free-ranging intellect that savors the humor in absurdity. He's candid about rejecting the parental example (choosing freelancing over corporate security, ironic detachment over Catholicism), and he wrestles frankly with the guilt that his family's prosperity was financed by an industry whose militarism, unknown to the child, is morally repugnant to the adult.
An exceptionally lucid, penetrating examination of the iconography of American middle-class life on the cusp of the space age, when optimism made infinite progress seem not only possible, but inevitable.
Posted April 28, 2013