The Fifties: An Underground History

S. & S. Jan. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781439101636. $27. HIST
The stereotype of the 1950s as a time of inaction or apathy for social causes is gradually giving way to the realization that the era saw many moves to awaken the United States from its so-called “Eisenhower siesta.” Gaines (For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions), an experienced journalist and historian, here gives an engrossing deep dive into the personal histories of important figures of what he calls “the long fifties” (roughly 1945–63); many of the book’s subjects have been overlooked in conventional histories. Gaines looks at the long fifties through the lenses of four issues: gay rights, feminism, civil rights, and ecology. In each chapter, he introduces individuals who were forces for change. Some of them lived to see their efforts come to fruition, like Frank Kameny saw President Barack Obama sign an executive order extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Other profiles include Rachel Carson, who was one of the first pioneers of ecological writing, and Pauli Murray, who fought for equality and showed how the civil rights movement and the women’s movement were intertwined.
VERDICT This work by Gaines follows in the footsteps of David Halberstam’s 1993 book of the same title and will be enjoyed by readers seeking solid historical research that is also an informative read. Recommended.
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