It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the 1950s. Bill Bryson's ten years younger than I, but he captures what it was like to grow up in those years in a way that makes me feel right at home. Of course much of what he says in this memoir is wildly exaggerated. There might even be some downright lying. But the facts of daily life and the statistics that Bryson uses are accurate.
One thing that struck me while I was reading the chapter about the Red Menace and Joe McCarthy is how Americans always seem to be given someone to fear. I can well remember the days when we were being told that there was a commie under every bed. The fear and hysteria that were stirred up over the commies returned in the '60s and early '70s, but that time it was the dirty hippies we were supposed to fear and loathe. They were probably commies. (In the later '70s and early '80s it was disco, but that was entirely justified.) More recently it's radical islamists. Old Tailgunner Joe would be right at home now, and he'd love Homeland Security and the TSA.
But I digress. This book was hilarious, it was true, and it engendered a veritable frenzy of nostalgia in me. Bryson talks about how optimistic everyone seemed to be in the '50s. I know I was. I really believed that the world would become a better place. I also believed that men would fly to other planets, probably within ten or twenty years. After that, to Infinity and beyond! This book reminded me of that feeling and of a lot more. Not everything was rosy, though, and Bryson doesn't forget that.
I don't know how someone who grew up in a later era would feel about this book, but it seems to have sold a heck of a lot of copies. Maybe growing up is a lot the same no matter where or when you do it. Bryson happened to grow up in Des Moines, where I've never been. I felt almost as if I'd visited it in a time machine, and now it's almost been washed off the map. Keep those folks in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and other cities in mind. And read Bryson's book. Maybe you'll enjoy it as much as I did.