Anyone who still believes the good old days of living in the United States have been replaced with a more troubled world will think twice after reading The Way Things Never Were: The Truth About the Good Old Days . Through facts, stories, and photographs, the book challenges those stereotypical carefree images of life during the 1950s and '60s that we've been exposed to, either through fond reminiscences from relatives or on television shows such as Father Knows Best. Like the film Pleasantville, The Way Things Never Were exposes the cultural myths of the time by breaking down the one-dimensional image of this era. Those good old days were also days of racial discrimination, sexual repression, and looming threats of Communism and nuclear war. It was a time when fat was considered good for you; vaccines for polio and other diseases (like mumps and measles) were nonexistent, as were video games and laptops; massive suburban housing developments were a new and promising trend; and environmental concerns were few. The Cold War hung in the air, and the duck and cover drill (recently parodied in a fast-food commercial) was a common practice and a dispiriting reminder for children of the fragility of peace. With its many references to studies and surveys, statistical information, and first-person accounts, the book serves virtually as a textbook for interpreting the shortcomings of the period and the progress made since.
Finkelstein doesn't reflect upon the '50s and '60s as a less desirable time in which to live. Rather, he explains the evolution of American culture to give the reader a new perspective on the good of the present. Young readers who see the present state of American life as a confusing mix of Jerry Springer-like existence spiked with images of angst and boredom should find The Way Things Never Were a refreshing retrospective on a time that many can recall as if it were yesterday. The book is also a reminder that, if we can accomplish the same amount of progress in a period of 40 years, the future holds many wondrous things indeed.
Jamie McAlister is assistant editor of Port News in Charleston, South Carolina.