Veteran journalist Glenn Frankel tells the story of the 1952 classic film High Noon against the tumultuous backdrop of the era of the Red Scare and Hollywood blacklist. Influenced very much by those times, the movie was conceived as a Western parable with a quiet political message defying the reactionary, toxic spirit of the era. The film’s success surprised many people, including its creators, and bitter arguments ensued over who was actually responsible for its greatness. A dogged and meticulous researcher, Frankel sorts through these disputes and provides a number of fresh facts, a good deal of clarity, and lots of fascinating trivia. But the larger relevance of the book, especially given present-day echoes to the blacklist movement and its fears of an America being usurped by outsiders, is what the story illustrates about how our politics and our creative enterprises can play off each other.
This informative tome retells American history, showing how paradoxical attitudes towards the white underclass have held firm over nearly 400 years. On the one hand, poor whites have long been seen as an undesirable group condemned by heredity to feeblemindedness, sloth, and animalistic behavior. From the colonial period through the early 20th century elites used language borrowed from animal husbandry to describe poor whites as an inferior breed. This abhorrent classist bias culminated the emerging “science” of eugenics and the Supreme Court infamously sanctioning forcible sterilization in Buck vs. Bell (1927), a case that was brought by a poor white maid who resisted the State of Virginia’s efforts to sterilize her. However in contradiction with the denigration and dehumanization of poor whites, they also have long been idealized, from Jefferson’s belief in the innate nobility of America’s yeoman farmers through the examples of Presidents like Jackson, Lincoln, and most recently Bill Clinton, who rose from humble origins in rural backwaters. Isenberg also examines changing depictions of poor whites in the popular culture and media over the years, and when eventually Sarah Palin and Honey Boo Boo find their way into this fascinating book, you won’t be surprised, given the historical continuities Isenberg so compellingly describes.
This is the history of one of the most remarkable prisoner uprisings in our country’s history. On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 inmates took over their facility in demand of their most basic human rights. Through dedication and a little luck, Heather Ann Thompson’s book draws on records that had been intentionally obscured from the public. She reveals new information about an old struggle that’s particularly useful, as the issue of our prison system and prisoner abuses is still alive: this fall, prisoners around the country held the largest strike in our history, with many of the same demands that prisoners in Attica made 45 years ago. The book recounts details that challenge popular beliefs about the people we lock behind bars, and the government we might expect to uphold basic human rights. Ann Thompson compellingly recounts the first definitive history of this event, interspersed with stories from the people involved. An excellent gift for someone engaged in the human rights struggles of our time, this book highlights many lessons we would benefit to take to heart.