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Dancing in the Dark


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About the Author

Morris Dickstein is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Dancing in the Dark, an award-winning cultural history of the Great Depression, and Why Not Say What Happened, a memoir. He lives in New York City


Dickstein (English & theater, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World) has written an extremely thorough cultural history of the Great Depression, primarily through analysis of the literature and film of the period. Chapters on different aspects of 1930s culture (as well as earlier significant works and cultural trends that informed Depression culture) provide detailed insights into the historical significance of a multitude of specific works of importance. Dickstein covers both well-known and more obscure works and draws interesting parallels between the Great Depression and today's economic situation. Background on the plots of films and books makes up a significant portion of each chapter, which is useful for readers unfamiliar with all the works covered or specialists in need of a refresher but can make readers feel they have a lot of material to plow through. VERDICT This book will be especially valuable for undergraduates new to cultural history of the era and will also be appreciated by general readers interested in the period. While much will be familiar to scholars, they may also appreciate it as an overview.-Madeline Mundt, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"The equivalent of a Fred and Ginger dance number . . . a thrill to read." -- NPR

The gloom of the Depression fed a brilliant cultural efflorescence that's trenchantly explored here. Dickstein (Gates of Eden), a professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, surveys a panorama that includes high-brow masterpieces and mass entertainments, grim proletarian novels and frothy screwball comedies, haunting photographs of dust bowl poverty and elegant art deco designs. He finds the scene a jumble of fertile contradictions-between outward-looking naturalism and introspective modernism, social consciousness and giddy escapism, a hard-boiled, increasingly desperate individualism and a new vision of singing, dancing, collective solidarity-which somehow cohered into "extraordinary attempts to cheer people up-or else to sober them up." Dickstein's fluent, erudite, intriguing meditations turn up many resonances, comparing, for example, the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will to Busby Berkeley musicals and Gone with the Wind to gangster films. While tracing the social meanings of culture, he stays raptly alive to its aesthetic pleasures, like the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers collaboration, which expressed "the inner radiance that was one true bastion against social suffering." The result is a fascinating portrait of a distant era that still speaks compellingly to our own. 24 illus. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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