The Noir Forties: The American People From Victory to Cold War

The Noir Forties: The American People From Victory to Cold War

by Richard Lingeman
     
 

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From one of our finest cultural historians, The Noir Forties is a vivid reexamination of America’s postwar period, that “age of anxiety” characterized by the dissipation of victory dreams, the onset of the Red Scare, and a nascent resistance to the growing Cold War consensus.

Richard Lingeman examines a brief but momentous and crowded time,

Overview

From one of our finest cultural historians, The Noir Forties is a vivid reexamination of America’s postwar period, that “age of anxiety” characterized by the dissipation of victory dreams, the onset of the Red Scare, and a nascent resistance to the growing Cold War consensus.

Richard Lingeman examines a brief but momentous and crowded time, the years between VJ Day and the beginning of the Korean War, describing how we got from there to here. It evokes the social and cultural milieu of the late forties, with the vicissitudes of the New Deal Left and Popular Front culture from the end of one hot war and the beginning of the cold one—and, longer term, of a cold war that preoccupied the United States for the next fifty years. It traces the attitudes, sentiments, hopes and fears, prejudices, behavior, and collective dreams and nightmares of the times, as reflected in the media, popular culture, political movements, opinion polls, and sociological and psychological studies of mass beliefs and behavior.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this candid reappraisal of America’s postwar era, Lingeman (Don’t You Know There’s a War On?), a veteran senior editor of the Nation, covers the years between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Korean War, focusing specifically on the shift of the American mood during this time from one of vague apprehension to a pointed distrust of the nation’s stability. The author shows how this decline into a noir sensibility was abetted by the homecomings of battle-scarred veterans, anxiety over future international conflicts, and the vicious anticommunist crusades in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. In “unlocking the psychology” of the general mood, Lingeman traces how this dark disposition manifested in literature, music, and film, but the book’s greatest triumph is in its depiction of the gradual change in the American populace’s collective journey from the pessimism of the Great Depression, through the hope of a burgeoning postwar middle class, to a climate of fear in the McCarthy era and on into the cold war. Lingeman served the U.S. for two years in the ’50s as a counterintelligence operative in Japan, and this “historical enlargement of smaller personal memories” is an insightful and illuminating blend of history and cultural criticism. (Dec. 4)
From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly
“[A] candid reappraisal of America’s postwar era….[T]he book’s greatest triumph is in its depiction of the gradual change in the American populace’s collective journey from the pessimism of the Great Depression, through the hope of a burgeoning postwar middle class, to a climate of fear in the McCarthy era and on into the cold war….[A]n insightful and illuminating blend of history and cultural criticism.”
Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s
 “Lingeman takes us past the platitudes about ‘the Greatest Generation’ to chart the painful transition from the collective ethos of the New Deal and wartime unity to the anxieties of the Cold War and a renewed rightwing offensive against working Americans. Compelling and enlightening.”

Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer and journalist. Co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
“This is an astonishing creation, a poignant, beautifully written history and memoir of a forgotten era. Richard Lingeman aptly calls it the Noir Forties, and his stylish prose blends the personal with delightful vignettes of American culture and politics. It is an elite brand of people’s history. Lingeman’s is a voice from the foxhole, soft-spoken and gentlemanly, but no less biting and acerbic than H.L. Mencken’s.” Victor S. Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation and author of Naming Names“Reading Richard R. Lingeman's masterful account of how America moved from its hottest to its coldest war, is more fun than going to the movies.  Part memoir, part cultural, political and social history, his penetrating look at the post-war years through the lens of the noir films of the forties, is wholly original, a literary coup.” Ellen Schrecker, author of Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America“By combining a thoughtful exploration of Hollywood’s dark vision of a violent and immoral society with a penetrating overview of the nation’s shift to the right during the late 1940s, Richard Lingeman helps us understand how the US could abandon its early post-war dream of peace and social justice for the conflict-ridden reality of the Cold War. It’s a chilling narrative that speaks all too forcefully to our present grim situation.”  Maurice Isserman, professor of history at Hamilton College, author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left“Richard Lingeman’s lively and wide-ranging political and cultural survey captures the curious mix of self-confidence, ambition, anxiety, and moral exhaustion that defined the national psyche in the years between VJ-Day and the onset of the Korean War. Lingeman is a sympathetic chronicler of the generation that fought the Second World War. As we say farewell to the last surviving World War II vets in the decade to come, The Noir Forties will keep alive the world they encountered and made in the five years that followed the war, years when they were young and brave and seeking and healing.” Dan Wakefield, author of New York in the Fifties
“Richard Lingeman ingeniously uses the noir films of the ‘forties to plumb the unconscious of the national psyche and give us a deeper understanding of this pivotal period. Salted by his wry reminiscence of serving as a counter-intelligence agent in Japan, the author weaves his own experience of the era into a fascinating narrative.”

Kirkus Reviews“Lingeman attributes [noir] films’ popularity to a correlation between these themes and the contemporary national psyche, elegantly using them as an accessible window into the spirit of an era struggling to digest the horrors of war, the dislocations of conversion to a peacetime economy and anxieties about the Soviet Union.”

History Book Club“In The Noir Forties, Richard Lingeman offers a vivid reexamination of the cultural, psychological, and political tenor of the ‘age of anxiety.’  Lingeman powerfully evokes the milieu of the late forties….The Noir Fortiescaptures an incisive slice of American life during a period of quiet but seismic change.”

Library Journal, starred review“There’s a lot of material here and it all flows together seamlessly.  This is a great book for buffs of both film and history persuasions.” History Book Club“In The Noir Forties, Richard Lingeman offers a vivid reexamination of the cultural, psychological, and political tenor of the ‘age of anxiety.’  Lingeman powerfully evokes the milieu of the late forties….The Noir Fortiescaptures an incisive slice of American life during a period of quiet but seismic change.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[The Noir Forties] does help us understand that time—and our time.”
 
U.S. News & World Report
“[S]eamlessly written and stuffed full of original scholarship…. Lingeman beautifully blends the arts and music into his sweeping analysis of the politics of the period. Thus the ‘voices of the people’— including artists—are heard here.”

Barnes & Noble Review
“[E]nlightening…. [Lingeman] excels at portraying the uncertain postwar mood and the way that films noir were uniquely able to capture that mood.”
 
New York Times Book Review
“Lingeman’s discussion of films is never less than interesting, and he understands the paradox of a politically repressive period leading to some of the most inventive films ever made…. Along with movies, The Noir Forties contains fine summaries of other arts—Lingeman is especially good on the exuberant mishmash of populist forms of music that emerged after the war.”

Books & Culture
“[Lingeman] has an interesting mind.”

Columbia Journalism Review“[A]n innovative fusion of autobiography and conventional history against a backdrop of noir.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“[A] richly textured and deeply felt book.” Washington Independent Review of Books
“A journalist of eclectic accomplishment…Lingeman is at home with his subject…. [E]ngaging.”

History News Network"The Noir Forties is a rather eclectic book which employs elements of autobiography, history, and cultural studies.... [A] provocative book."

Kirkus Reviews
Paranoia and anomie in late-1940s America. As World War II drew to a close, American liberals hoped that the New Deal and a win-the-war culture would culminate in an era of peace and cooperation, advancing the interests of the common man. Instead, the nation got the Cold War and the McCarthy era. The Nation senior editor Lingeman (Double Lives: American Writers' Friendships, 2006, etc.) attempts to explain the transition in national mood during the time, from the euphoria at the end of the war to the anti-communist paranoia that followed. This was the heyday of film noir, inexpensive productions dealing in themes of violence, obsession with chance and death and existential despair. Lingeman attributes these films' popularity to a correlation between these themes and the contemporary national psyche, elegantly using them as an accessible window into the spirit of an era struggling to digest the horrors of war, the dislocations of conversion to a peacetime economy and anxieties about the Soviet Union. As he surveys the politics of the period, Lingeman's sympathies are clearly with the left. He gives much attention to union activity but struggles with the role of domestic communism, cheerfully asserting that "the most militant and effective unions in the South were Communist-led ones," but bristling at denunciations of "alleged Communist infiltration of unions." He describes at length the quixotic third-party candidacy of Henry Wallace in 1948, doomed in part because it welcomed communist participation, and the slow demise of various peace groups. Lingeman appears to view American foreign policy in this period as a lost opportunity in which progressives like Wallace could have forged a lasting peace with the Soviet Union had they not been sidelined by hard-liners in both parties, while he excuses or minimizes Stalin's provocations in Europe and Korea. The film criticism is more rewarding than the doctrinaire leftist exposition of the period's history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781568586908
Publisher:
Nation Books
Publication date:
12/04/2012
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly
“[A] candid reappraisal of America’s postwar era….[T]he book’s greatest triumph is in its depiction of the gradual change in the American populace’s collective journey from the pessimism of the Great Depression, through the hope of a burgeoning postwar middle class, to a climate of fear in the McCarthy era and on into the cold war….[A]n insightful and illuminating blend of history and cultural criticism.”
Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s
 “Lingeman takes us past the platitudes about ‘the Greatest Generation’ to chart the painful transition from the collective ethos of the New Deal and wartime unity to the anxieties of the Cold War and a renewed rightwing offensive against working Americans. Compelling and enlightening.”

Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer and journalist. Co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
“This is an astonishing creation, a poignant, beautifully written history and memoir of a forgotten era. Richard Lingeman aptly calls it the Noir Forties, and his stylish prose blends the personal with delightful vignettes of American culture and politics. It is an elite brand of people’s history. Lingeman’s is a voice from the foxhole, soft-spoken and gentlemanly, but no less biting and acerbic than H.L. Mencken’s.” Victor S. Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation and author of Naming Names“Reading Richard R. Lingeman's masterful account of how America moved from its hottest to its coldest war, is more fun than going to the movies.  Part memoir, part cultural, political and social history, his penetrating look at the post-war years through the lens of the noir films of the forties, is wholly original, a literary coup.” Ellen Schrecker, author of Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America“By combining a thoughtful exploration of Hollywood’s dark vision of a violent and immoral society with a penetrating overview of the nation’s shift to the right during the late 1940s, Richard Lingeman helps us understand how the US could abandon its early post-war dream of peace and social justice for the conflict-ridden reality of the Cold War. It’s a chilling narrative that speaks all too forcefully to our present grim situation.”  Maurice Isserman, professor of history at Hamilton College, author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left“Richard Lingeman’s lively and wide-ranging political and cultural survey captures the curious mix of self-confidence, ambition, anxiety, and moral exhaustion that defined the national psyche in the years between VJ-Day and the onset of the Korean War. Lingeman is a sympathetic chronicler of the generation that fought the Second World War. As we say farewell to the last surviving World War II vets in the decade to come, The Noir Forties will keep alive the world they encountered and made in the five years that followed the war, years when they were young and brave and seeking and healing.” Dan Wakefield, author of New York in the Fifties
“Richard Lingeman ingeniously uses the noir films of the ‘forties to plumb the unconscious of the national psyche and give us a deeper understanding of this pivotal period. Salted by his wry reminiscence of serving as a counter-intelligence agent in Japan, the author weaves his own experience of the era into a fascinating narrative.”

Kirkus Reviews“Lingeman attributes [noir] films’ popularity to a correlation between these themes and the contemporary national psyche, elegantly using them as an accessible window into the spirit of an era struggling to digest the horrors of war, the dislocations of conversion to a peacetime economy and anxieties about the Soviet Union.”

History Book Club“In The Noir Forties, Richard Lingeman offers a vivid reexamination of the cultural, psychological, and political tenor of the ‘age of anxiety.’  Lingeman powerfully evokes the milieu of the late forties….The Noir Fortiescaptures an incisive slice of American life during a period of quiet but seismic change.”

Library Journal, starred review“There’s a lot of material here and it all flows together seamlessly.  This is a great book for buffs of both film and history persuasions.” History Book Club“In The Noir Forties, Richard Lingeman offers a vivid reexamination of the cultural, psychological, and political tenor of the ‘age of anxiety.’  Lingeman powerfully evokes the milieu of the late forties….The Noir Fortiescaptures an incisive slice of American life during a period of quiet but seismic change.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[The Noir Forties] does help us understand that time—and our time.”
 
U.S. News & World Report
“[S]eamlessly written and stuffed full of original scholarship…. Lingeman beautifully blends the arts and music into his sweeping analysis of the politics of the period. Thus the ‘voices of the people’— including artists—are heard here.”

Barnes & Noble Review
“[E]nlightening…. [Lingeman] excels at portraying the uncertain postwar mood and the way that films noir were uniquely able to capture that mood.”
 
New York Times Book Review
“Lingeman’s discussion of films is never less than interesting, and he understands the paradox of a politically repressive period leading to some of the most inventive films ever made…. Along with movies, The Noir Forties contains fine summaries of other arts—Lingeman is especially good on the exuberant mishmash of populist forms of music that emerged after the war.”

Books & Culture
“[Lingeman] has an interesting mind.”

Columbia Journalism Review“[A]n innovative fusion of autobiography and conventional history against a backdrop of noir.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“[A] richly textured and deeply felt book.” Washington Independent Review of Books
“A journalist of eclectic accomplishment…Lingeman is at home with his subject…. [E]ngaging.”

Meet the Author

Richard Lingeman, the longtime Senior Editor of the Nation, is the author of Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser. He lives in New York City.

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