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Editors’ Bookshelf

June 2024
1min read

Nostalgic for the untroubled moral righteousness of the good-versus-evil world of 1960s radicalism? Take yourself back with The Best of Broadside, 1962-1988 , a lovingly produced book and five-CD boxed set from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings ($69.99). Broadside was a mimeographed newsletter full of protest songs published by a couple in an apartment on New York City’s Upper West Side from 1962 to 1988; Folkways Records started putting out LPs of the songs in 1963. The selection here includes Pete Seeger singing “Mack the Bomb"; Tom Paxton, “Train for Auschwitz”; the Fugs, “Kill for Peace”; Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”; and Phil Ochs, “We Seek No Wider War”—89 songs in all.

Benjamin Franklin stood out in so many worlds—as statesman, diplomat, scientist, inventor, city father, businessman, author, and philosopher, among many other things—and was so crucial to the making of our nation that a good biography of him will also paint a thorough and unceasingly lively portrait of the breadth of eighteenth-century America. H. W. Brands’s The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Doubleday, $35.00) does all that, making an eloquent case that Franklin’s life, which reached from Cotton Mather’s Boston to the eve of Washington’s inauguration, “is also the story of the birth of America—an America this man discovered in himself, then helped create in the world at large.”

In Kilroy Was Here: The Best American Humor from World War II , edited by Charles Osgood (Hyperion, $22.95), readers can revisit cartoons and dispatches from Bill Mauldin as well as tales of the Brooklynite Gl Artie Greengroin from Harry Brown, the author of A Walk in the Sun . They can also learn how Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s defiant reply of “Nuts!” to a German ultimatum was translated by French papers ( Vous n’êtes que de vielles noix — “You are nothing but old nuts") and why Army men referred to salt pork as “lamb chop”: “They I am it against the wall to get the salt out of it and then they chop it up into the beans.”

In a 1967 book called Babbitts and Bohemians , Elizabeth Stevenson described 1925 as “The Year Nothing Happened” and then devoted a whole chapter to it. Now, two nearly as nondescript years have just had entire books published about them: 1831 , by Louis P. Masur (Hill and Wane. $25.00). and 1927 by Gerald Leinwand (Four Walls Eight Windows, $32.00). Masur delves deeply into a few broad topics: race and slavery, religion and politics, states’ rights, technology. Though he falls short of demonstrating that 1831 was the year when the conflicts that would lead to the Civil War became intractable, his treatment is sure-handed, entertaining, and informative. Leinwand, by contrast, often obscures his point under a blizzard of hard-todigest statistics ("Nationally, estimates for amounts in Christmas Club accounts varied from $250 million to $500 million"), and while he presents many fascinating facts along the way, all too often his account reads like Frederick Lewis Allen’s research notes for his classic book about the 1920s, Only Yesterday (1931).

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