Thursday, 22 June 2000

Isabel Leighton: The Aspirin Age (1949)

Edition: Penguin, 1964
Review number: 529

A collection of essays devoted to US politics in the period 1919-42, each choosing a pivotal person or event, The Aspirin Age succeeds in painting a clear picture of a time which still affects the world today. (One of the most trends which can be seen is the move from an isolationist stance towards the current interventionist, almost imperialist, attitude to foreign affairs - and this has continued to affect millions, from Korea to Iraq.) There is a companion volume, The Age of Anxiety, devoted to British affairs.

The book succeeds because of the quality of the writing and the interest of the subjects, which range from Amy Semple Macpherson to Huey Long, from Versailles to Pearl Harbour (there is just about one essay for each year). Most of the writers are journalists who were involved in the original reporting of the events that they are writing about, and they are often quite partisan, which increases the entertainment value. (The essays on Harding and Coolidge are particularly vitriolic.) Overall, though, the presentation is less one sided and more illuminating than that given by dos Passos' USA trilogy (which I was reading at more or less the same time).


Tally Hooz said...

Hi Simon-it is post election 2016 and I keep wondering about what time was America SO great that we need to be as great as that particular time...1950s? 60s? 70s? Are there other books like this wonderful book--a compilation of well-written essays about the times? If you know of any, I'd be very interested. Thank you!

Simon McLeish said...

I don't generally follow US politics, so haven't come across anything more recent to recommend. My take on "making America great again" is that nostalgia always makes the past look not only better than the present, but better than people at the time thought it was. And in many cases, "now" feels different depending on who you are - a white billionaire just elected to the White House will have a rather different view to someone facing abuse because of the colour of their skin or their sexuality.