The Free World

Recovery and renewal arrived on a flood tide that lifted all kinds of production—culture above all. This was the era that gave the world a new look: tail fins on new cars, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, new sounds like Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.  New films like Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” Jack Kerouac had a hit with On the Road; he said: the “beat” in Beat poetry meant “sympathetic,” and now we get it. The postwar period in Luke Menand’s big book on The Free World is 1945 to the late ’60s: the American Century’s best quarter maybe, when the center of world civilization moved from Paris to New York and Los Angeles.

Louis, or Luke, Menand.

Luke Menand has written a monumental catalog of The Free World that staggered, then strutted out of World War 2 in 1945. His subtitle is Art and Thought in the Cold War. You can read it now as a cultural history of the Short American Century – 25 or 30 years through the ’60s, about us when we were young, us at our best perhaps: voracious, experimental, out-reaching, networking the codes of an adolescent empire, launching ideas that would shape a vast array of baby-boomers. Minority liberations were dawning. Education and entitlement were expanding through the GI Bill and the SAT.

Guest List
Louis Menand
Professor of English at Harvard and staff writer at the New Yorker.
Reading List
Sunflower Sutra
Allen Ginsberg

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