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In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Men In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind. How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of "freedom" applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? With the wit and insight familiar to readers of The Metaphysical Club and his New Yorker essays, Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt's Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage's residences at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg's friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin's transformation into a Civil Right spokesman, Susan Sontag's challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood. Stressing the rich flow of ideas across the Atlantic, he also shows how Europeans played a vital role in promoting and influencing American art and entertainment. By the end of the Vietnam era, the American government had lost the moral prestige it enjoyed at the end of the Second World War, but America's once-despised culture had become respected and adored. With unprecedented verve and range, this book explains how that happened.


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In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Men In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind. How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of "freedom" applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? With the wit and insight familiar to readers of The Metaphysical Club and his New Yorker essays, Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt's Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage's residences at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg's friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin's transformation into a Civil Right spokesman, Susan Sontag's challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood. Stressing the rich flow of ideas across the Atlantic, he also shows how Europeans played a vital role in promoting and influencing American art and entertainment. By the end of the Vietnam era, the American government had lost the moral prestige it enjoyed at the end of the Second World War, but America's once-despised culture had become respected and adored. With unprecedented verve and range, this book explains how that happened.

30 review for The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This is a sprawling cultural history, American- and European-centric, of that time after the Second World War. The author, Louis Menand, won all the awards for his earlier book: The Metaphysical Club. I read that one and unlike most others found it numbing. But this new book spoke to my time, and I saw that he even mentioned The Beatles, so I had at it. The thing about sprawling books, though, is that they, well, they sprawl. So there were topics and figures that had me fairly engaged: George Ke This is a sprawling cultural history, American- and European-centric, of that time after the Second World War. The author, Louis Menand, won all the awards for his earlier book: The Metaphysical Club. I read that one and unlike most others found it numbing. But this new book spoke to my time, and I saw that he even mentioned The Beatles, so I had at it. The thing about sprawling books, though, is that they, well, they sprawl. So there were topics and figures that had me fairly engaged: George Kennan, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Andy Warhol, those Beatles, Jackson Pollock. But I slept through others: John Cage, James Baldwin, C. Wright Mills. But I learned things, like: -- All of Sartre’s works were put on the Vatican’s Index of prohibited books; Mein Kampf was not. -- Classified job ads in The New York Times were segregated by gender until 1968. And: In 1963, more than 80 percent of college faculty were men (a higher percentage than in 1920); 95 percent of physicians were men; 97 percent of lawyers were men; more than 97 percent of United States senators, members of Congress, and ambassadors were men. . . . In 1963, of 78 federal judgeships, none was held by a woman; of 307 federal district court judges, two were women. Of approximately 9,400 state legislators, 341 (4 percent) were women. Three states (Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina) did not allow women to serve on juries. -- Thurgood Marshall had this to say about Martin Luther King, Jr: I think he was great as a leader. . . . As an organizer he wasn’t worth a shit. -- Paperback publishers commissioned covers for books like Brave New World and The Catcher in the Rye from the same artists who did the covers for Strangler’s Serenade and The Case of the Careless Kitten. -- The star of Les Enfants du paradis, Arletty, was imprisoned for “horizontal collaboration” with an officer in the Luftwaffe. (Arletty had a memorable way of expressing her lack of repentance. “My heart belongs to France,” she said, “but my ass belongs to the whole world.”) -- Today, in America, everyone says, “It is what it is,” which is meant to sound profound but really just means the speaker can’t form an independent thought. Isaiah Berlin said it better: Everything is what is, liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience. This I already knew: As a campaigner John F. Kennedy was willing to align himself loosely with the civil rights movement, but ending racial segregation was not one of his priorities. In his inaugural address, Kennedy mentioned civil rights obliquely and only once, implied in a promise to uphold “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” The last six words were added at the request of two aides, Harris Wofford and Louis Marin, who told Kennedy that he needed to make a gesture to the Black voters who had supported him. . . . Kennedy had never heard of the Freedom Riders. He is supposed to have said to Wofford: “Can’t you get your goddamned friends off those buses?” There is only one thing that I disagreed with, when the author wrote this: The Beatles were never artists and never thought of themselves in those terms. That’s bullshit, and demonstrably wrong. John Lennon famously said this: I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it. And they quit touring, at a time when they were exploring music that had never been imagined. I don’t know how to grade this book by Goodreads’ stars. I suspect it will win a lot of awards.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bagus

    I could forgive the length of this book which is almost 944 pages for the rich contents inside it. Written by the Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Menand, this book offers an interesting point of view to the Cold War period beyond the spectrum of the political sphere. It focuses on two subjects which influence human’s lives, art and thought. It begins with a brief description of the origin of the Cold War, which could be traced by a recommendation sent by George Kennan who was a US diplomat in the So I could forgive the length of this book which is almost 944 pages for the rich contents inside it. Written by the Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Menand, this book offers an interesting point of view to the Cold War period beyond the spectrum of the political sphere. It focuses on two subjects which influence human’s lives, art and thought. It begins with a brief description of the origin of the Cold War, which could be traced by a recommendation sent by George Kennan who was a US diplomat in the Soviet Union and the person who first advocated a policy of containment of Soviet expansion soon after the end of World War II. His writings inspired Truman Doctrine and US foreign policy of containing the Soviet Union. However, many of the ideas in this book, both for art and thought originated even far before the Cold War. Some of them could be traced into European artistic influence (Paris as the world art capital in the 1920s) and the aftereffect of World War II (existentialism which gives the individual the power to change their own situations and gain freedom). Hence, I am in the opinion that this book is more about the styles of art and the thoughts that influence much of our lives in the 20th century rather than focusing solely on the Cold War since even the explanation of Cold War phenomenon only appeared in several chapters. It highlights several artistic movements, literary movements, and philosophical ideas in many parts of the world with really nice bridging from one idea to another. Besides the abnormal length, another problem that I have regarding this book is mainly about its tendency to focus on art and thought movements only in Western bloc during the Cold War. It doesn’t describe well some literary movements that are in place in the Eastern bloc such as Socialist Realism (in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe, mainly championed by Andrei Zhdanov and György Lukács), Epic Theatre (practised by Bertolt Brecht and his theatre company Berliner Ensemble in East Germany), dissident writers and artists in the Eastern bloc (I had some expectation like this book describes Václav Havel's role in overthrowing communism in Czechoslovakia), or even the curious case of Boris Pasternak who won controversial Nobel Prize of Literature in 1958 (this book at least mentioned the story of Anna Akhmatova’s brief relationship with Sir Isaiah Berlin, but it’s mainly told to highlight Berlin’s achievements). Nevertheless, this book is indeed interesting new research on the Cold War period. I like the way it provides me with rich intertextuality of ideas, which help me to expand my vocabularies of modern art and thoughts as well as providing me with further book recommendations to be read. Louis Menand writes articulately without making the readers confused about terminologies or historical facts. Each chapter of this book could be read independently. For example, readers who are interested with Sartre’s idea on existentialism could turn to Chapter 3 - Freedom and Nothingness, those who are interested with analysis on Kerouac’s On the Road and Beat generation could check Chapter 4 - Outside the Law, and those who are interested with John Cage’s musical invention which was based on the twelve-tone system could turn to Chapter 8 - The Emancipation of Dissonance. This book will be intriguing for people with interest in modern art, modern thoughts, politics, and even the reasoning for the rise of consumerism in the 1960s. Many of the ideas in this book are simply derivative from other books published in the past. However, the way the author could connect those ideas with geopolitical issues of the Cold War is a merit in itself which expand further the discussion that we could have regarding the Cold War beyond the political sphere. === I received the Advance Reader Copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War from Louis Menand is a sweeping survey that looks at how and why perceptions about the United States, both domestically and internationally, changed so completely during these years. First, as he makes clear in his Preface, this is neither a history of the Cold War nor is it about Cold War culture specifically. It is about "art and thought" during this period and how it helped to mold new ways of thinking and being. The Cold War was, as Menand says, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War from Louis Menand is a sweeping survey that looks at how and why perceptions about the United States, both domestically and internationally, changed so completely during these years. First, as he makes clear in his Preface, this is neither a history of the Cold War nor is it about Cold War culture specifically. It is about "art and thought" during this period and how it helped to mold new ways of thinking and being. The Cold War was, as Menand says, just one of many factors. So don't expect specifically a history of or explicit connections to the Cold War for every person or movement mentioned. The connections are there throughout and a perceptive reader will see them, but since the tensions between the "East and West" weren't the only, or even always the primary, factor it isn't overly emphasized. Also, if you're worried about the length of the book, don't be. First of all, by the Kindle measurement, the body of the text ends at 73%, so barely over 700 pages make up the body of the book. While all of the notes are useful if you want to read further, very few include additional commentary (there are actually some footnotes in the text for those types of notes) so the pages with the notes do not add to the amount of reading. In addition, each chapter is centered on a particular movement and/or group of people, so each can be read almost like a self-contained essay. This makes the book one that allows a reader to read chapters at their leisure and return to the book later without losing too much of the flow. That said, it richly rewards reading over a few days so you can better appreciate the big picture. Finally, and this is important, Menand doesn't treat the period as if in a vacuum. He discusses what came before and how it helped shape what happened during this period. Sometimes as a logical continuation, sometimes as a response to, but never as something created from nothing. If you expected a book to discuss a period of history, especially when focusing on art and thought, without delving into what came before, you haven't read many meaningful history books, at least not very well. Because the sweep is so broad, there will be some areas where Menand uses less than nuanced interpretations when making his point. Not so much wrong or mistaken, but things that don't take everything into account. I didn't find these to be particularly problematic, a person can only go in depth so far on this many topics, at some point he has to rely on previous work. I only noticed this in a couple chapters where I have done more research and reading, and I think that will be the case with other readers for whom some of these movements represent part of their personal scholarly past. It does not, however, detract from the larger arc of the book and doesn't make a reader feel that something has been misrepresented. I highly recommend this for readers who enjoy intellectual history, literary history, and art history. Art in this case is using the broad definition, music, painting, etc. I think a casual reader would enjoy reading this book essentially as a collection of connected essays. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    Menand sets out in this book to describe the intellectual and artistic scene in America and Western Europe from the end of World War 2 in 1945 to the rise of the hippies in 1967. This is intellectual history. Menand explains that "Intellectual history explains art and ideas by examining the condition of their production and reception." That is a misleading definition, at least for the way Menand does it. Menand doesn't start with art and ideas. He begins with the artist and thinkers. Where did t Menand sets out in this book to describe the intellectual and artistic scene in America and Western Europe from the end of World War 2 in 1945 to the rise of the hippies in 1967. This is intellectual history. Menand explains that "Intellectual history explains art and ideas by examining the condition of their production and reception." That is a misleading definition, at least for the way Menand does it. Menand doesn't start with art and ideas. He begins with the artist and thinkers. Where did they come from? How did they grow up? Where did they go to school or work? Then he tracks their ideas or their art and asks where it came from and what did it lead to. This is a fun book to read. Menand loves to capture the quirks and failings of his subjects. One of the running gags, (although this is not really a "running gag" kind of book) is that artist and thinkers keep claiming that they were moved or inspired by seeing things that Menand shows they could not have seen when they said they did. Thinkers are inspired by attending lectures that happened before they went too that school. Artists are inspired to paint a piece by art painted after the piece. Menand takes a genial attitude towards this kind of thing. It is just intellectuals being intellectuals. The scope of this book is amazing. Abstract expressionism, the political theories of Hannah Arendt and Isiah Berlin, Mercer Cunningham and modern dance, James Baldwin and Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and William Burroughs, the Beatles, John Cage, Andy Warhol and Pop Art, Goddard and Truffaut and French cinema, Alan Ginsburg, Susan Sontag, Jack Kerouac, Pauline Kael , Lionel Trilling, Sartre, Betty Friedan and a bunch more, all get detailed discussions outlining their life, art and thought. This is a book not an encyclopedia. Menand brilliantly weaves all of these stories together. He loves showing the connections across countries and specialties. For example, John Cage, the composer, seems to have known everyone. He had a major role in modern dance and avant-garde theater. The abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock and Rauschenberg in particular, inspired Cage and he inspired them. Menand carefully unwinds all of these complicated relationships. One of the striking features of most of his subjects is a complete lack of a sense of humor. The Beatles and Ginsburg where not really part of the high intellectual world. The rest of the crowd took themselves very seriously. Menand, in a low key way, pokes fun at much of the self importance. Menand is a great explainer. He manages to give as-clear-as-possible explanations of things like, the theories of abstract painters, existentialism, Sontag's theory of "Camp", or the auteur theory of film criticism. He is also appropriately skeptical of some of the dubious theories. One interesting strategy Menand adopts is his tone. This is not a debunking book. He treats his subjects as serious thinkers and artist. It is also not a hagiography. When he thinks Andy Warhol is being phony, he says it. He says it politely, but he says it. He has favorites like Cage, Baldwin and Pollock . He has people he is not as much a fan of, like Sontag, Trilling and Mailer. Menand loves odd facts. John Cage appeared on an Italian quiz show when he was doing concerts in the country. He won five million lira ($6,000) for naming the twenty four types of white spored mushrooms. He was, on the side, an expert in mushrooms. He names them in alphabetical order to show off. Or this trivia question; What educational background did at least one member of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, the Jeff Beck Group, The Animals and Donovan have in common? They each had a member who went to art school. Vocabulary word. In a section on the American car industry of the 1950s, Menand mentions that, "the industry term for all tail fins, hood ornaments , oversized bumpers, protruding tailpipes, chrome detailing-nonfunctional design elements on cars -was "borax" (adj. "borageous" ) One quibble. Menand says that Northrup Frye believed in the 1950s that "the critic's first task is to identify the memes". "Memes" is anachronistic. Richard Dawkins invented that word in the 1970s. It is a notoriously slippery word and it does not fit well into literary theory, but, in any case, it wasn't what Frye was thinking of in the 1950s. This is a smart, fascinating and serious book of intellectual history. Menand is a sprightly and clear writer. He is the perfect guide through this interesting and confusing territory.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    pedestrian analysis interspersed with interesting anecdotes––in short: a 700-page collection of extended, only tangentially related, New Yorker articles.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex Goodall

    As any good Cold Warrior might hope, Louis Menand gets his defence in first. This is not a book about the "cultural Cold War”, he explains in his preface - that is, the way that culture was mobilised by Cold War rivals as part of their efforts to get one up on each other. Nor is it a book about “Cold War culture”, the ways that the norms of the Cold War influenced cultural life. In fact, the book is not really much about the Cold War at all. It begins with a discussion of Kennan and realist thin As any good Cold Warrior might hope, Louis Menand gets his defence in first. This is not a book about the "cultural Cold War”, he explains in his preface - that is, the way that culture was mobilised by Cold War rivals as part of their efforts to get one up on each other. Nor is it a book about “Cold War culture”, the ways that the norms of the Cold War influenced cultural life. In fact, the book is not really much about the Cold War at all. It begins with a discussion of Kennan and realist thinking about containment in the late 1940s and ends with arguments about opposition to Vietnam in which Kennan returns, but between these points the Cold War appears only infrequently as a contextual theme. “Art and Thought in the Cold War”, the subtitle, is more a nod to the fact that the book is about art and thought that happens to happen in the first half of the Cold War than it is suggesting the Cold War itself made a lot of difference. Indeed, a lot of what Menand shows is how changes in this period result not from Cold War pressures but from a set of internal logics that often date back to earlier periods, especially the interwar years; and the unplanned effects of the massive disruptions of the Second World War, not least the mass migration of cultural figures from Europe to America. Even when artistic products get taken up by Western governments and promoted as evidence of the cultural fertility of Western democracy, Menand shows that most of the time the artists themselves were fairly indifferent to politics; art came first. Menand could have called this book “Art and Thought in Midcentury”, then - he’d have been as accurate and the book would have been just as interesting, though perhaps it would have sold fewer copies. If there is a driving force behind the incredible volume of cultural production in this exceptionally fertile period, Menand implies it is the extraordinary transformation of culture as an industry following the explosive growth of affluent bourgeois classes around the world. (Many artists and thinkers in this book often come across as canny entrepreneurs and self-promoters rather than anti-capitalist radicals.) Finally, this is not anything that we might describe as a global history of art and thought in the Cold War. Menand focuses almost exclusively on the Western bloc, and within that largely on the United States and, secondarily, France... although that still gives him plenty to work with. And this is the thing most to praise about the book: the sheer range of material he covers. Painting, literary theory, political theory, music, anthropology, literature, and huge amounts more are swept through at breakneck speed. There are around 150 pages of bibliography available on his website if you want to get a sense of how much reading this book is based on. At times he arguably goes too fast - the brief introduction to structuralism and Levi-Strauss was bravura, to my mind, but he struggled more to encapsulate existentialism and deconstruction in the few paragraphs he allotted himself, fairly understandably. But this book is plenty long enough and there isn’t much other choice if one picks such a massive picture to fill in. People might similarly complain that figures or movements are missing or that the emphasis is off here or there, but everyone would have their own preferences and personally I like seeing how each of our frames of reference are a little different. If I did have a complaint, it’s that I don’t really feel that the whole thing hangs together especially powerfully. He says in his intro that, “The book I ended up writing is a little like a novel with a hundred characters. But the dots do connect.” If that’s true, I think the reader has to do quite a lot of work in connecting them. At times, this book feels a lot like it’s been written by someone who has got very good at doing individual _New Yorker_ pencil portraits, which makes sense, since that’s what Menand does. At other times, it feels like it's the collected lectures from an accomplished professor delivering an undergraduate survey module, which also makes sense, since Menand does that, too. But at one or two moments it also feels like just one damn thing after another. If you like the history of ideas and culture you’ll probably enjoy reading Menand’s lively romp. You’ll probably feel smarter for reading the book. You’ll probably feel that Menand is smarter still. With a book of such ambition perhaps the whole thing should be a bit more than the sum of its parts, but nevertheless the individual parts do still add up to a lot.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd Fassett

    4/23/21 It found me through a review in the Wall St. Journal here: ‘The Free World’ Review: Cold War Culture - As the Americans and Soviets jockeyed for dominance, every page and painting was a potential battlefield. It sounds like a great way to understand the 50's, or more precisely cultural and intellectual history from 1944 - 1975. 4/23/21 It found me through a review in the Wall St. Journal here: ‘The Free World’ Review: Cold War Culture - As the Americans and Soviets jockeyed for dominance, every page and painting was a potential battlefield. It sounds like a great way to understand the 50's, or more precisely cultural and intellectual history from 1944 - 1975.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mikaela Bichara

    Author’s way of storytelling is so good, I suggest you join NovelStar’s writing competition, you might be their next big star.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily Wolfe

  10. 4 out of 5

    Autumn Swinford

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Rodriguez

  12. 5 out of 5

    Will Porter

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gideonleek

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sasha S.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  16. 4 out of 5

    PD Sand

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gil Roth

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fred Schultz

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scott Dixon

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve Clason

  23. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

  24. 5 out of 5

    Randy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rodriguez

  26. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ran Shao

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scott Le Duc

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suela

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