Picks and Pans Review: When the Going Was Good

updated 11/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/22/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Jeffrey Hart

Hart is a National Review editor, an English professor at Dartmouth, a former speech writer for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and, perhaps most to the point, was 20 in 1950. He is, therefore, loath to believe that the '50s were the Edsel of decades, and herein attempts to prove they were not. In this occasionally winning book, he cites such divergent '50s phenomena as President Dwight Eisenhower ("his smile was almost a philosophical statement"), the beginning of the television era, literary lights Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac, the refinement of nuclear physics, and the tennis style of Jack Kramer, all as evidence that things were actually pretty creative back then. Hart's credentials for generalizing about the decade may be a little shaky. For one thing, while he says he grew up in a middle-class New York City neighborhood, he insists he never knew any boys with long greasy hair or any people who were crazy about Elvis. His praise of Eisenhower seems as extravagant as the abuse once heaped on Ike by condescending critics who considered the President an amateur golfer first, a chief executive second. Moreover, the shakiness of Hart's research detracts from the strength of his argument. One example: In a chapter devoted to the New York baseball teams, Hart mistakenly credits Dodger Duke Snider with hitting four home runs in one game. Actually, Gil Hodges performed the rare feat on another date. But Hart has amassed a lot of evidence, he writes easily, and those readers who spent any cognizant part of their lives during the '50s will, at least, be grateful to him for coming to the defense of 10 years that could not possibly have been as boring as they have been portrayed. (Crown, $15.95)

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