cover image Modern Temper

Modern Temper

Lynn Dumenil. Hill & Wang, $17 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-1566-5

Turning to the flip side of the '20s' flapper image, Dumenil looks at the darker side of the decade forming the ``central motifs that have shaped the modern American temper.'' Between the end of WWI and the stock market crash, the aura of get-rich-quick prosperity overshadowed tensions resulting from the highly skewed distribution of wealth. The unfettered capitalism of the time is reflected by Calvin Coolidge, who said, ``The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there, worships there.'' In 1920, for the first time, half the U.S. population lived in cities. While life grew more organized, complex and sexually liberated, the reaction increased, too. Capitalists fanned a Red Scare following the 1919 Bolshevik Revolution, forcing American reformers to confront this inflated fear along with homegrown poverty and racism. Dumenil points to the mass consumer culture, corporate mentality, job structure that eroded individual autonomy, assembly lines, intense special-interest lobbying in Washington and the fusion of sexuality with consumption as among the decade's legacies to later American culture. Readers may wish that Dumenil spent more time on countervailing radical forces (Rand School of Social Science; Scott Nearing; Max Eastman's The Masses; Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW) that contributed to the ferment of this formative era. Even so, she has captured the fire of this volcanic time and weaves together scores of social and political threads into an insightful overview. (June)