Tag Archives: Cold War

Gelnn C. Altschuler – All Shook Up (2003)

AllShookUpLooking at how Rock ‘N Roll changed the world, Glenn C. Altschuler, in his book, focuses exclusively on the 1950s, the decade in which he deems Rock N’ Roll music was born. I think that he is correct in this assessment, although I did have some issues with his narrow view.

This is a relatively compact read. Each chapter tackles a different social issue including race, sexuality, and the generational gap. He writes that Rock ‘N Roll entered directly into Cold War controversies ongoing at the time and appealed to the new generation of baby boomers growing up in America. I enjoyed his discussions of various musical personalities including Elvis and Perry Como, to inspirational artists like Fats Domino and Willie Mae Thornton. Even though Altschuler talks about how Rock ‘N Roll was both a form of sexual expression and sexual control, he doesn’t explicitly tackle the nuances of gender. How Rock ‘N Roll was a heavily male dominated sphere and women could only enter into it by playing virginal maids, a la Diana Ross and the Supremes. He briefly mentions the Ronettes, but says nothing about the backlash that occurred over the lyrics to “Be My Baby”

I do think that the 1950s may have been the most important decade for Rock ‘N Roll, but I also wish that Altschuler had extended his range past the 1950s and into the 60s, 70s, and beyond. Even though the Rock ‘N Roll’s formative years may have ended, it certainly did not and continued, as it continues today, to be a vehicle for protest and social change.

Ken Follett – Edge of Eternity (2014)

EdgeOfEternitySo mixed regarding how I feel about this book. I liked it, but I liked it because I like the history behind it, not because I think Ken Follett is a good writer.

This is the third book in Follett’s trilogy and for me, after the first one, they kind of went downhill. The first book was great, the characters were somewhat original and the idea of tracing five different families through the First World War was compelling and done well. The second book was OK, but I think its harder to write about the Second World War without falling into the same tired clichés and character types.

I heard a rumour that Follett didn’t even want to write this book, and it really showed. He started off strong telling the story of a young Black lawyer on a Freedom Ride through the Southern United States, and his chapter detailing the events of JFK’s assassination was done really well, as you see how every character stationed in different areas around the world reacts to the news. He should have just ended there, but obviously couldn’t, needing to tie up everyone’s stories with the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991.

Following the JFK assassination the book becomes almost unbearable, the dialogue is so banal and so many of the events are just unbelievable. It makes me wonder if Follett himself has ever actually experienced anything! I’ve written before about how I don’t like his female characters as they all come off as very one-dimensional, and this book was no different. The female characters all serve the goals of the men, and none of them have their own interesting storylines.

Despite the fact that I did not love this book, for some reason I still cried during the epilogue when Follett describes the African American family, the family of the Freedom Rider protagonist, sitting around a TV watching was Barak Obama is sworn into office. That’s more about me being a suck though, than Follett’s writing, as overall, the book was not memorable.

Lily Koppel – The Astronaut Wives Club (2013)

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I was a little shocked to see such negative reviews of this book on Goodreads. Many complaints cited the fact that this was more of a “story” rather than a history. While as a historian I did have a slight problem with the lack of footnotes or sources to back up the stories Koppel tells, over all I felt this was en enjoyable read.

Astronauts during the Space Age were literally larger than life, and their wives often had to keep up the appearance of the nuclear families. While I always assumed the hardest part of being an astronaut wife was dealing with the fact that your husband was continuously in danger, most of these women were previously army wives and were quite used to this aspect of the job. It didn’t necessarily make their lives easier, but they had dealt with the possibility of their husbands not coming home for many years before they became astronauts. The hardest part of the job was the spotlight that these women were inevitably put under while their husbands raced to the moon.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the discussion of how the government and NASA injected themselves into every part of the women’s lives from the way the dressed, where they lived, and even what colour lipstick they wore. In a photo shoot for Life Magazine the wives had all decided to wear pink lipstick, but when the cover was printed the colour was changed to red to symbolize the women’s patriotism.

While overall I liked the book, it got a bit hard to follow since Koppel wanted to talk about all astronaut wives, not just the Original “Mercury Nine.” I began to loose track of the wives and “who’s who.” Furthermore I would have loved to know more about the wives of the Apollo 13 astronauts. This book would have been stronger had Koppel simply chosen to devote all her attention to the original Astronaut Wives Club. I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it; I think that there is a lot more work to be done on the lives of the astronaut wives.

Rating: 4/5