Cover image for New York in the fifties
New York in the fifties
Wakefield, Dan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1992.
Physical Description:
x, 355 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3573.A413 Z474 1992 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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New York in the 50s is Dan Wakefield's story of a unique time and place in cultural history, when New York City was a hotbed of free love, hot jazz, radical politics, psychoanalysis, and artistic expression. Wakefield found himself in the middle of a world in which anything was possible, and he writes about the era with the keen eye of a historian and the first-hand knowledge and affection of one who lived through a fabled, fertile era. Wakefield enriches his recollections with the first-hand accounts of his friends and colleagues-Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Allen Ginsberg, William F. Buckley, James Baldwin, and others who made New York in the fifties the legend that still exerts such a powerful influence on American life. A documentary film based on the book will be shown at film festivals in the United States and abroad during 1999. A CD of the musical score, composed and produced by Steve Allee, has been released by AlleyOop Music Publishing. Copyright © Libri GmbH. All rights reserved.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wakefield left Indiana for Columbia University and the excitement of New York City at the start of the 1950s, a decade that has been given a bad rap according to the author and his peers. Declaring that New York in the fifties was like Paris in the twenties, Wakefield has written a "community memoir" of life during that heady, self-reflective era by mining the memories of fellow travelers such as Joan Didion, Calvin Trillin, Norman Mailer, Nat Hentoff, Gay Talese, and Allen Ginsberg, as well as his own. Always a word man, first as a student and ever after as a devoted reader and writer, Wakefield's slant on New York culture has an inherent and entirely appropriate literary focus. Stories and books by Salinger, Mailer, Mary McCarthy, James Baldwin, and Jack Kerouac sparked impassioned, nicotine- and alcohol-fueled discussions, while psychoanalysis, the new and very wordy religion, smoothed the way for sexual adventures. Wakefield mocks the misnomer of the "Silent Generation" in the face of their fertile eloquence, zealous interest in the world, and discrete yet bold risk taking. He brings us to the White Horse Tavern and the Five Spot, Spanish Harlem and the offices of the Village Voice, pinpointing the influences of Monk, Miles, and Mingus, Sartre and de Beauvoir, and even, with charming candor, the diaphragm and "serial monogamy." This is an irresistible tale of a time of romance, intellectual engagement, generosity, and "serious gaiety," a time to relish, respect, and, perhaps, even envy. (Reviewed Apr. 1, 1992)0395513200Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

While Allen Ginsberg howled that the best minds of his generation were being destroyed by madness, Wakefield, who lived in the same town, was high on just being there, on making it as a freelance writer if not yet as a novelist, on the camaraderie he found in Greenwich Village, on hanging around with James Baldwin, Vance Bourjaily, Norman Mailer, Seymour Krim, John Gregory Dunne, Gay Talese, William Buckley and other ``writer writers'' who would later become our eminences grises of letters. Wakefield had fled Indianapolis in 1952 to study at Columbia; yet eight years later, ``all scratched out,'' he would flee New York City--and end up in Boston, permanently. This is his memoir of '50s Manhattan, a charmed, gentle, evocative re-creation of a time when sex was more talked about than done (and when done, was done in secret), a time when psychoanalysis was hailed as the new religion, booze was the soporific, Esquire and the Village Voice the journalistic pacesetters, jazz the music. Then the atmosphere changed: McCarthyism hovered, Timothy Leary came around with the ``cure-all elixir'' psilocybin, the Beatles landed. Wakefield, whose novels include Home Free , has written his generation's kinder-spirited Moveable Feast , marking his era as a cultural divide.Litterateurs will treasure the book. So will aspirants. Photos not seen by PW . (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When Wakefield came to New York in 1952 to attend Columbia, the city more than fulfilled his dreams. Over the next 11 years, he finished his degree, began a promising career as a freelance journalist, and made friends with such interesting and diverse people as C. Wright Mills, William F. Buckley Jr., Allen Ginsberg, Norman Podhoretz, James Baldwin, and Norman Mailer. He heard the Clancy Brothers at the White Horse Tavern, Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot, and Jack Kerouac at the Vanguard. He comments here on some of the era's most vital issues, including McCarthyism, civil rights, and psychoanalysis, corroborating his own experience with recollections by Meg Greenfield, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, and others who were on the scene. Wakefield's celebratory memoir, tinged with nostalgia, is highly recommended.-- William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.