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Check It Out: The Fifties: An Underground History by James R. Gaines

This is Michael Maxwell with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today, I am recommending The Fifties: An Underground History by James R. Gaines.

What do you think of when you think of the 1950s? As someone who was born closer to the end of the 20th century and missed the decade entirely, the 50s conjure up images of June Cleaver vacuuming in pearls, sock hops, and McCarthyism. Gaines knows that I, and many other readers, think of this decade as an unfussy era of white picket fences and atomic-age optimism that bordered on naivete. Gaines also knows that this perception of the 1950s doesn’t even tell half the story.

In The Fifties, Gaines tells the story of an era through essays that focus on figures who pioneered the world we live in today. Each of these figures corresponds to a major social issue that many people do not associate with the post-war decade- gay rights, feminism, civil rights, and ecology. Gaines shows us that the seeds of the revolutionary 1960s were planted a decade before and gives us a more thorough and uncertain portrait of a decade that is usually depicted as a well-off era of domestic bliss and poodle skirts.

What did the LGBTQIA liberation movement look like before Stonewall? What happened to African American soldiers returning home from World War II and how did this influence the budding Civil Rights movement? Where was American feminism in between Rosie the Riveter and Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique? How did our relationship to nature completely shift in the wake of the bomb and Rachel Carson?

I found it rewarding to read about the foundations of conversations that we’re still having today.

Check out The Fifties: An Underground History by James R. Gaines and other books that make you rethink what you think you already know at the Sioux City Public Library!

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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