A Monumental New Study of Cold War Culture

Louis menand’s big new book on art, literature, music, and thought from 1945 to 1965 instills the conviction that the 20th century is well and truly over. It seems like the right gift for the graduating college senior this year. Born in 2000, the proud degree-holder may not recognize the Jackson Pollock reproduced on the accompanying congratulations! card, or know the Allen Ginsberg lines misquoted in the commencement speech, but can look them up in The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War and confirm that this past is truly past. For those of us who lived through any portion of this period and its immediate aftermath, the book is a rather amazing compendium of the scholarly research, revision, and demythologizing that have been accomplished in recent decades. Interweaving post-1945 art history, literary history, and intellectual history, Menand provides a familiar outline; the picture he presents is one of cultural triumph backed by American wealth and aggressive foreign policy.

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