Trivia and History

"Trivia and History," Commentary, December 1956. (A review of The Crucial Decade: America 1945-1955 by Eric F. Goldman.)


Oddly enough, Professor Goldman’s intentions are serious, not to say honorable. He has a thesis: the “crucial decade” witnessed the culmination of a “Half-Century of Revolution” in domestic affairs which resulted in the welfare state, and the final break with the nationalist-isolationist tradition in foreign affairs. There are, moreover, parts of the book where Professor Goldman writes like an older-fashioned historian—as when he sketches the background of McCarthyism—and here he is both instructive and persuasive. But, on the whole, the preponderance of “snappy” journalism defeats his own purpose: this kind of writing has inherent in it a touch of the sardonic, the satirical, the spoofing. The unimportant is inflated, the significant is demeaned. The population explosion of postwar America, clearly one of the decisive facts of modem history, gets three sentences—half as much as the scandals in “amateur” sports. Three juvenile delinquents in Nahart, Massachusetts, get two paragraphs; Dien Bien Phu gets considerably less. “Local color” is continually elbowing history out.

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