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Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Malcolm Hillgartner,Morris Dickstein

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Hailed as one of the best books of 2009 by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, this vibrant portrait of 1930s culture masterfully explores the anxiety and hope, the despair and surprising optimism of distressed Americans during the Great Depression. Morris Dickstein, whom Norman Mailer called ''one of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature,'' has brought together a staggering range of material, from epic Dust Bowl migrations to zany screwball comedies, elegant dance musicals, wildly popular swing bands, and streamlined art deco designs. Exploding the myth that Depression culture was merely escapist, Dickstein concentrates on the dynamic energy of the arts and the resulting lift they gave to the nation's morale. A fresh and exhilarating analysis of one of America's most remarkable artistic periods, with Dancing in the Dark Dickstein delivers a monumental critique.

Reviews (7)
There is a lot of good thinking and a lot of good writing in Mr. Dickstein's cultural overview of the Depression. As a lifelong Astaire fan, I was particularly pleased with the author's appreciation of what Fred and Ginger meant to the country and the world of the Thirties. I would submit, however, that there are sins of omission to consider here, and any "Cultural History of the Great Depression" whose index reveals not a single reference to DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN or (especially) KING KONG can never claim to be a thorough examination of its purported subject. Perhaps some day the professor will favor us with a revised and expanded edition of his treatise...
Ordered this book because I'd seen it cited in several book reviews and articles. Interesting overall, but his bizarre and unsupported takes on authors of the '30s, esp. Kerouac and Agee, seemed an exercise in bombast.
Dancing in the Dark is an excellent resource for those who are interested in the Great Depression of the 1930s. It enhances history with the cultural aspects of this era. I am writing a novel, and the setting begins during the decade of the depression. Of course, the characters were shaped by their struggles to survive in a world of the down-trodden. Dancing in the Dark lends insight into the role art played--bringing light into a tawdry world, offering hope in a time of despair.
I found "Dancing in the Dark" to be an embarrassment of riches. The elegance of its writing, the political and psychological sophistication that inform it, the depth and clarity of its argumentation, and the jaw-dropping breadth of source material at Morris Dickstein's command all combine to make this a magisterial work of cultural history. Dickstein accomplishes what all cultural historians attempt, but few manage, to bring off, creating a palpable sense of what it must have been like to live, think and feel during the period in question - here the era of the gravest U.S. crisis after the Civil War, the 1930s. With breathtaking erudition, Dickstein draws together insights from disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, film theory, art history, sociology and psychoanalysis, making connections among them that are unexpected but never facile or strained. And "Dancing in the Dark" gives the reader the best of both worlds, bringing together the rigor and careful documentation of the serious academician Dickstein is, with the galloping narrative verve associated with the best popular history writing. Whether you're a professional student of the Great Depression looking for sparkling insights or fresh information, or just a lover of a good, rich read, you'll be entranced by this deeply beautiful book.
Excellent book on the cultural background of the Great Depression. Anyone familiar with the political and social story will find his understanding enhanced by this book. It's well written and entertaining.
Very detailed and long discussion of some aspects of the Great Depression that have not been covered elswhere..some of it seems redundant and too wordy but generally interesting
Although I am too young to have experienced the Great Depression first hand, I have a passion for all things of the era. When people ask my why, I reply "Because it seems to me that it was the last time that our nation possessed a soul."

I love this book. I found the author's critical assessments to be so sane, humane, and wise. The book led me, as I was reading, to explore its many topics. A friend burned me three CDs with 100 Cole Porter songs. Then he sent me 100 Irving Berlin. I bought the Bing Crosby boxed set that the author recommended. And I watched at least five of the movies that Morris Dickstein recommended. One downside: What am I to do with my new crush on Sylvia Sydney?

I think this is what criticism should be. It should inspire the reader to engage with the subject. It should enhance the art, not compete with it, or, worse, crush it.
A fun fascinating read. This book presents a new way to look at the depression era. History teachers focus on politics and economics; Dickstein, on the other hand, presents the depression through voice and image.

ISBN: 1441762523

Rating: 4.4/5

Votes: 388

Other Formats: lrf docx rtf txt

ISBN13: 978-1441762528

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (September 6, 2010)

Language: English

Subcategory: Americas

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
Author: Malcolm Hillgartner,Morris Dickstein
Title: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression