Perfectly timed with the zeitgeist, Morris Dickstein’s Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression has been drawing prominent reviews. Intriguingly, the book argues that those culturally fertile times were stimulated by two conflicting desires: for the blunt truth about the country’s economic circumstances, and for the desire to escape from it. All libraries we checked own it in modest quantities (1 per each large branch), with holds of 13 or fewer.

In Maureen Corrigan’s interview with Dickstein on NPR’s Fresh Air, she describes Dickstein as “not only one of America’s most perceptive literary critics, but also one of our best critical writers” and praises his “zesty voice” and “lightly worn erudition” that make the book “a thrill to read.”

Major critics like the Washington Posts Jonathan Yardley and the New York Times‘ Dwight Garner have also weighed in. Yardley takes Dickstein’s emphasis on Depression literature (in addition to film, music and other forms of entertainment) as an opportunity to reconsider the works of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Margaret Mitchell, among others. And though Garner finds fault with Dickstein’s rambling, encyclopedic style, he also finds much to admire.

In the Los Angeles Times, Richard Schickel praises Dickstein for his “true critical daring” in advancing the causes of artists “long since dismissed as ‘middlebrows’ by the cultural elite.”

And in the Boston Globe, Saul Austerlitz reflects on Dickstein’s description of the passivity of the American response to financial and political turmoil:

“Even when faced with unprecedented chaos, relatively few Americans took comfort in fascism and Communism. While Dickstein doesn’t come right out and say it, the conclusion after reading his book is a fairly obvious one: Americans couldn’t be mobilized for political rallies because they were all at their local movie theaters catching the latest Cary Grant comedy.”

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
Morris Dickstein
Retail Price: $29.95
Hardcover: 624 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. – (2009-09-14)
ISBN / EAN: 0393072258 / 9780393072259

Comments are closed.