Picks and Pans Review: Talking With... David Halberstam

updated 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT


"I'M PARTICULARLY PROUD," SAYS DAVID Halberstam, 59, speaking of the six years of work that went into The Fifties, "of how I've traced the roots of McCarthyism to Harry Truman's victory in 1948. Republicans had accepted their defeats against Roosevelt, but they didn't expect to lose to Truman, 'that little haberdasher.' Thomas Dewey ran a high-road campaign in '48, but when he lost, the animals came out of their cages. American politics became very ugly. Democrats were accused of being partners with Communism, traitors to the country, and this affected the fabric of the nation. One of the direct reasons Lyndon Johnson took us into Vietnam was because he didn't want to let the Republicans accuse the Democrats of being 'soft on Communism.'

"Another conclusion I came to," says the author, who lives in Manhattan with his wife, Jean, their daughter Julia, 12, and their dog, Winnie, "was that scientific advances fueled a change in morals. The development of the birth-control pill, among other things, helped open the way for Tennessee Williams and Hugh Hefner's Playboy to affect the population.

"Everyone says the country is more cautious now, but the victories of the '60s have given us higher levels of freedom in personal lifestyle. Things jump out at you from the '50s, whether it's Ed Sullivan wanting to keep Elvis Presley off the air, or Dean Rusk, then head of the Rockefeller Foundation, cutting Alfred Kinsey off from this tiny amount of money funding his extraordinary research into sexual behavior. It's a much more tolerant country now."

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