Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression

Morris Dickstein (Author)
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Product Details

W. W. Norton & Company
Publish Date
September 01, 2009
6.6 X 1.61 X 9.44 inches | 2.25 pounds

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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


Our greatest literary critic and best overall chronicler of the 1960s now gives us the definitive cultural history of the 1930s, producing an unlikely but undeniable page-turner in the process. You expect Dickstein to make you rethink William Carlos Williams or James Agee ("an authentic if beseiged Christian"), but not necessarily to have Fred Astaire dancing nimbly on the page or Duke Ellington shedding his grace on that of the prose. He misses nothing, from Porgy to Kane, and through an add stroke of cosmic timing, makes our own troubled times feel a lot brighter. -- Gary Giddins, author of Natural Selection: Gary Giddins on Comedy, Film, Music, and Books
Written with subtlety and eloquence, Dancing in the Dark is both authoritative and mesmerizing. I learned so much from this book, knowledge which is highly relevant to our own economic climate and culture wars. -- Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story
A brilliant tour de force of narrative history. Morris Dickstein flashes through the American cultural landscape of the Great Depression as if cloaked in day-glo, expertly weaving analysis and anecdotes together like an old-time master craftsman. This is one of the great history books of the decade. -- Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
A significant historical work. A wonderful cultural historian, Morris Dickstein has written a book that lends testimony to the perseverance of the nation at that time. --Gay Talese"
A tour de force of '30s culture, high and low. The writing is never less than scintillating, the interpretations bold and incisive, the range encyclopedic.... As timely and readable a book as any that will be published this year. --David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie"
Starred Review. His scintillating commentary illuminates an important dimension of a decade too often considered only in political or economic terms .It s hard to imagine a more astute, more graceful guide to a remarkably creative period. "
Starred Review. 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....The result is a fascinating portrait of a distant era that still speaks compellingly to our own. "
Dickstein looks beyond the mainstream to the nation s minorities, whose powerlessness made economic hardships even harder to bear, and he details the contributions of African Americans and immigrant Jews to American culture. Parallels to contemporary economic conditions mark this as an exceptionally relevant book. --Mark Knoblauch"
A collection of thoughtfully linked essays on relatively few but exemplary works and their creators novels, poems, plays, movies, art (both high and decorative) and music (both popular and classical) that defined the period between the Crash of 1929 and America's entrance into World War II. These admirably written pieces are marked by a generosity of spirit that never deteriorates into the quarrelsome or the niggardly, even when Dickstein does not fully endorse the objects he's discussing....Dickstein is terrific on all kinds of expression. --Richard Schickel"
[A] smart, ambitious piece of work, the product of prodigious research and careful thought, and those who read it will come away with a clearer understanding of an important but widely misunderstood period in the country's cultural life. --Jonathan Yardley"
[A] judiciously researched, persuasively argued, elegant analysis of Depression culture.... Dickstein is...exhaustive without being exhausting, and his book is a commendable compression of a complex decade. --Saul Austerlitz"
[A] bighearted, rambling new survey of American culture in the nineteen-thirties.... Dickstein...values the popular culture of the Depression, and writes with enthusiasm about Cole Porter s wit, George Gershwin s jazz cadences, and the racing stripes and shiny surfaces of Art Deco. --Caleb Crain"
Morris Dickstein achieves something so remarkable with Dancing in the Dark that it hovers close to the miraculous: He almost makes you wish you'd been living in America during the 1930s. --Gene Seymour"
Dancing in the Dark is a book best read slowly, perhaps with a DVD player or YouTube close at hand, so that when Dickstein invokes Fred Astaire's "refusal to dance, and the very dance in which he acts this out" in Swing Time, you can see exactly what he means.... [a]s we again find ourselves whistling past the big, bad wolf of economic hard times, Dickstein reminds us of how much we owe the culture that taught all of us how to face the music and dance. --D.D. Guttenplan"