What was one of the fastest production cars in 1957? If you guessed Rambler Rebel you would be correct. Which manufacturer was the top selling brand in 1957, Chevrolet or Ford? The correct answer is Ford, not that you would know that if your selection was based solely on attendance of car shows today. What sector or sectors of American society petitioned the government to expedite the construction of the interstate highway system, death knell for Route 66? The answer, state, local and national politicians, the military, city planners, oil companies, labor unions, truck drivers, automobile manufacturers, drivers who members of organizations like AAA, and highway departments to name but a few.

As an ardent student of history I have come to several conclusions. One, politics, regardless of country where they are practiced, is a great deal like cleaning stables. It may come in different colors but it all smells about the same. Two, a gifted politician can harness the obscuring mists of time, and with a bit of old fashioned slight of hand as well as ample use of smoke and mirrors, sell the idea that the past was better, or worse, than today. Three, history may be based in fact but those facts can become quite distorted with the passing of time just as a landmark seen through the rear window of a car traveling sixty miles per hour on a rainy day.

When you give thought to the 1950’s, the golden years on Route 66, what comes to mind? Good times? “…most studies of poverty showed that from 20 to 25 percent of the population lived in poverty, with perhaps another 10% living on the poverty line…” If these (government) figures are correct, then in any given year in the fifties something like 40 to 50 million people lived on the edge of poverty or below it.” This is an excerpt from the fascinating book God’s Country: America in the Fifties written by J. Ronald Oakly. If I were to describe this book in but two words they would be time capsule.

The auto industry and the threat of foreign cars, the national shame that was McCarthyism, innovation, the rise and fall of labor unions, skyrocketing sales of barbecue equipment and swimming pools, the women’s cosmetic industry, the rise of suburbia, inequality and prejudices, the formation of national policies that led to Vietnam and our entanglement in the Middle East today, and the dawning of corporate dominance are chronicled in this 435 page book that almost reads like a novel. As I was reading this book the thought that some things never change kept coming to mind.

Debates in congress about Russian interference in domestic policies and politics. Debates about increasing wage inequality. Debates about corporate power and their avoidance of taxes. Concerns about international flash points such as Iran, Korea and China. Discussions on the provision of a national health car system. The 1950’s were interesting times.

As an auto enthusiast I found the chapter on “Good Times” to be rather fascinating. “By the early fifties, the automobile was directly or indirectly responsible for one sixth of GDP, providing millions of jobs in the automobile manufacturing industry, the petroleum industry, all the many companies that made materials that went into the manufacture of new cars, the tourist and travel industry, services stations, drive in movies and restaurants, advertising, repair shops, and highway construction and maintenance.”

Add this book to your library if you are in need of perspective during these crazy times. Add this book to the library if you are need of something to calm the nerves during the never ending political campaign season. Add this book to the library if you are simply a fan of a good book that transports the reader to the time being discussed.

 

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