Sunday, July 13, 2014


I finished reading WELCOME TO MARS: POLITICS, POP CULTURE, AND WEIRD SCIENCE IN 1950S AMERICA by Ken Hollings (North Atlantic Books, 2014) yesterday. It's a Whitman Sampler box of 1950s pop culture and I've got mixed feelings about what I read.

The book covers the years 1947 to 1959 and it is Hollings' thesis that it was during these years that the "future" arrived. Hollings devotes a chapter to each year and he writes in a breezy, informative (but strangely present tense) style.

Each year is chock full of important events that shaped both America and the world. Subjects covered throughout the book include the ongoing UFO/Flying Saucer phenomenon that began in 1947, science fiction pulp magazines, science fiction films, the rise of the suburbs, the CIA's experiments in mind control and psychotropic drugs (including LSD), the nascent space program, Sputnik, Disneyland, the dawn of television, the streamlining of American made automobiles, the proliferation of new household appliances, psychotherapy, crack-pot cults, comic book censorship and on and on.

Hollings covers a lot of ground but because of his year-by-year format, he only hits the high points of each year. There's no formal narrative arc to tie all of these things together. He makes the case that all of these things were important to the development of the "future" but each chapter only left me wanting more information. Indeed, almost everything Hollings writes about in WELCOME TO MARS is a worthy subject of a well-researched, more in depth and rigorously focused book. Many such books have already been written and more are sure to be forthcoming. Every chapter contains some nugget of information that made me think, "Hey, I'd like to read an entire book about that!" Unfortunately, WELCOME TO MARS isn't that book.

But let's not fault Hollings' work for what it isn't and clearly wasn't intended to be. The book is certainly worth reading. It will make you realize what a truly remarkable era the post war years were and if you're a member of the Baby Boomer generation (like me), you'll enjoy this walk down memory lane. WELCOME TO MARS is a nice appetizer that should make you hungry for a more satisfying main course of your choice. Dig in. There's plenty to choose from.

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