The Way Things Never Were: The Truth About the "Good Old Days"

Overview

A kids' guide to why the "good old days" weren't so great after all. Finkelstein lifts the veil on the glorified era of the 1950s and 1960s to expose the realities behind the myths: the fear of Communism, expanding suburbs, racial and sexual discrimination, and nuclear bomb threats. In doing so, Finkelstein leads readers to a fresh appreciation of the virtues of our present time.

A history of the United States during the 1950s and 1960s including sections on health ...

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Overview

A kids' guide to why the "good old days" weren't so great after all. Finkelstein lifts the veil on the glorified era of the 1950s and 1960s to expose the realities behind the myths: the fear of Communism, expanding suburbs, racial and sexual discrimination, and nuclear bomb threats. In doing so, Finkelstein leads readers to a fresh appreciation of the virtues of our present time.

A history of the United States during the 1950s and 1960s including sections on health care, eating habits, family life, environmental issues, and the condition of the elderly.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The catchy title of Finkelstein's (Friends Indeed) latest is a bit of a misnomer, for his examination of the good old days of the 1950s and '60s spends less time debunking myths of the past than extolling the superiority of present-day America. In his prologue, Finkelstein notes that current talk-show hosts and politicians "tell us how much happier we would be if only we returned to the values, lifestyle, and practices of America's past." But the social and cultural issues of primary concern to those espousing "family values" garner little attention here. The majority of the chapters open with a nostalgic "myth" (e.g., "We Never Locked Our Doors"; "We Respected Our Elders"), followed by a discussion of advancements in technology and government programs which make life in the 1990s better than it was in the past. Some of Finkelstein's points are unsurprising (polio vaccines and the widespread use of antibiotics have led to a far healthier population) while others seem more like claims than facts (e.g, he asserts there was more violence on TV in the past than there is today). Quotations from Finkelstein and others who were children during the 50's and 60's enliven a statistic-filled text, as do the book's many historical photographs and perky design (though lengthy photo captions printed in tiny type are a drawback). For those readers up to the challenge, Stephanie Coontz's book for adults, The Way We Never Were, gives a more provocative examination of this glorified era. Ages 10-14. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
ALAN Review
Like countless generations before them, today's teens are bombarded with adult comments about the good old days. But were those days all that good? Norman Finkelstein addresses that question by taking off the prerequisite rose colored glasses and introducing young teenagers to the 1950's and 60's. He delves into tried and true phrases such as "doctors cared because they made house calls," "the air was much cleaner," "the family stayed home together," and "we never had to lock our doors." Finkelstein shows the downside of these sweeping perceptions: the polio epidemics, the increasing smog and polluted rivers, the domestic poverty, the confining roles of women, the threat of nuclear war, and the world's very real civil unrest. Although the information is interesting, it's the format of this readable social history that is intriguing. The author entices us by starting with "what we think we know," and then questioning our perceptions. The result is a thoughtful and appealing look at contemporary history, covering topics as diverse as the birth of the interstate highway system to the violent attempts to bring civil rights to all Americans. Each discussion shows how historical events continue to shape our complex and changing world. Genre: Nonfiction/History. 1999, Atheneum, Ages 12 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Betty Carter
Children's Literature - Carolyn Dennette Michaels
Title and subtitle well describe these 104 pages that devote a chapter to each of these topics: our nation's health, its diet, environment versus pollution, crime as related to safety, automobiles and highways, and the world of the elderly. Each subject is treated with a look back at the 1950's and '60's which is then contrasted with information brought up-to-date (1997). Each page combines text with simplistic generalizations and sidebars or "spots" such as related statistics, reproductions of historic advertisements, and historic photographs. Finkelstein finds the "old days" as wanting when weighed against his assessment of a now for which there are no citations beyond 1997. The book's blurb invites readers "to decide for themselves." Yet, without any discussion of the dark side of the present, he firmly concludes, "Life is getting better for most people...we are healthier, safer." Recommended for purchase only by libraries or a parent or grandparent who remembers.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Ever get tired of people talking about the "good old days" when doctors made house calls, doors were never locked, and childhood was golden? As Finkelstein revisits the 1950s and `60s, he reminds readers that when memories wax fondly, facts should be carefully examined. He agrees that the family doctor was kind and reassuring, but points out that was the biggest part of his medical arsenal. There was no ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or measles vaccine and children were terrified of being forced into an iron lung because of polio. He describes how the Cold War fueled anxiety and promoted the "Red Scare," and discusses bomb shelters that were built in backyards in the mistaken belief that they could protect families during atomic warfare. Automobiles were unsafe; our diet was poor; and old age was not as enjoyable as it is today. The author also notes the restraints endured by minorities and women. Laced with lots of documented information, this concise social history is enticing and accessible. Sidebars in which the author and others relate pertinent childhood memories and interesting black-and-white photographs are liberally sprinkled throughout. This nifty approach to the past presents a positive outlook on the present day. Stuart A. Kallen's The 1950s (Lucent, 1998) is a more detailed book for students who already have some background on the period.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Christine Stansell
...[T]here are moments when Finkelstein succeeds, especially when he focuses on some little-known piece of the past from a child's perspective....Mostly...the book amasses information that lends itself to school reports rather than cover-to-cover reading or interested questions....The history is there to be taken on its own terms, intially, and then to be weighed and balanced...
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The "good old days" are a myth, says Finkelstein (With Heroic Truth, 1997, etc.), no matter what readers' parents or grandparents may have told them. Writing about the 1950s and 1960s, Finkelstein points out that those years "were not a happy, carefree time for everyone in America." Every one of the eight chapters is devoted to a myth•that people were healthier, that the air was cleaner, that crime was so low that there was no need to lock the front door, etc. In-depth discussions debunk the myth, revealing that the values, lifestyle, and practices during recent eras made for a world of limited choices. If doctors no longer make housecalls, advances in medical technology mean that the population is much healthier today; television "portrayed the petty problems of white families, each composed of a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and assorted well-adjusted children," without reference to real-life issues of poverty, discrimination, and the status of women. Statistics back up Finkelstein's claims, although the power of these is somewhat offset by primary-source reminiscences, including his own; these are credible, but arbitrary. The volume will nevertheless stimulate readers to think about the virtues of the present, and will give them plenty of material the next time "the olden days" comes up for discussion at family gatherings. (b&w photos, notes, further reading) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689814129
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 7/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 112
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.54 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue
Chapter 1: People Were Healthier
Chapter 2: Pass the Pot Roast, Please
Chapter 3: We Could Breathe the Air
Chapter 4: Home, Sweet Home
Chapter 5: We Never Locked Our Doors
Chapter 6: See the USA in Your Chevrolet
Chapter 7: We Respected Our Elders
Chapter 8: Golden Childhood
Epilogue
Notes
Further Reading
Index
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