cover image American Dreams: The United States Since 1945

American Dreams: The United States Since 1945

H. W. Brands, . . Penguin Press, $35 (432pp) ISBN 978-1-59420-262-9

Though this crisp, informal narrative overview of the last half-century of American history is long on story and short on analysis, it does its job well. Bringing his trademark clarity to the tales he tells, bestselling historian Brands (The First American ) opens in post-Hiroshima days and closes in our own. He covers everything important, from politics and war to culture and society—civil rights, music, the baby boom, and the middle class. But it's hard to swallow the sappy conceit of Americans as “dreamers” with which Brands tries to thread the book together. “[T]he heart of America's dreams was the act of dreaming itself... it was encoded in the country's DNA from the beginning.” But what has dreaming to do with the cold war or the embarrassments of the Nixon and Clinton administrations or with the Great Recession? Americans' collective dramas may be on hold for the moment, Brands concludes, but individually, they are as ambitious as ever. Despite its thematic weakness, Brands's book is a fast-moving, reasonably comprehensive history of more than half a century of American history. (May)