Book Reviews: The Gay Fifties

By Staff


Rumor has it that the 1950s were a buttoned-down decade, but We Walk Alone and We, Too, Must Love, colorful histories of lesbian culture published in 1955 and 1958, fly in the face of reports of drabness. Inspired by Donald Webster Cory’s The Homosexual in America (Greenberg, 1951), Ann Aldrich (a pen name of author Marijane Meaker) set out to serve her community, about which there was a dearth of literature from the insider perspective.

“This book is the result of 15 years of participation in society as a female homosexual,” Aldrich unflinchingly writes as she opens We Walk Alone, but her sophisticated prose is anything but solipsistic. She is simultaneously intimate and investigative, subjective and discerning, and the result is equal parts historical record, cultural-social analysis, and pulp narrative-a fascinating, unruly read, where an invitation to cocktail hour at a Sutton Place apartment (written in the engaging second person) happily coexists with a chapter examining legal attitudes toward sodomy in the 48 states.

Whereas We Walk Alone functions as a primer, We, Too, Must Love reports in depth on New York lesbian culture, relying heavily on accounts of specific couples, although Aldrich never fails to anchor her analysis in (or in contrast to) the voices and viewpoints of her day. The Feminist Press editions of these essential cultural artifacts, originally published by Gold Medal Books, feature introductions by Meaker and savvy afterwords by Stephanie Foote, a professor of English and gender studies, for readers who crave modern academic context.

Julie Hanus

CABLE NEWS CONFIDENTIAL: My Misadventures in Corporate Media

by Jeff Cohen (PoliPointPress)

Jeff Cohen is a rare left-wing media critic who has had the opportunity-and the stomach-to appear regularly on America’s corporate-owned cable news channels. In Cable News Confidential, Cohen, the founder of media watch group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), documents his years as a pundit and sometime producer at CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Admitting that his role on shows like Fox’s News Watch was “peculiar”-he was paid by “Darth Murdoch” to criticize the media-Cohen supplements scary behind-the-scenes revelations with on-air excerpts. Ultimately, his “misadventures” shed light on the troubling shortcomings of cable news, where temper tantrums are preferred to informed debates because they make for “good television.”

Danielle Maestretti


edited by Ruth W. Grant (University of Chicago)

Five years after the September 11 attacks resurrected the rhetoric of evil, the use of the term has become as banal as Hannah Arendt once argued evil itself is. Despite this ubiquity-or perhaps because of it-we seem increasingly incapable of actually recognizing and confronting evil. This quandary motivates much of Ruth W. Grant’s engaging anthology Naming Evil, Judging Evil, an effort born of two years of discussions among her Duke University colleagues. The resulting essays equip readers with the intellectual tools to understand evil’s manifestations, past and present, and to navigate the tricky terrain of judging those evils-a prerequisite to acting against them. While some of the pieces bog down in academic wrangling, others are excellent and accessible, provoking the kind of deep and complex thought that is missing from today’s public discourse.

Hannah Lobel

DIPLOMACY LESSONS: Realism for an Unloved Superpower

by John Brady Kiesling (Potomac)

In 2003 John Brady Kiesling penned the resignation letter that would be read around the world. Leaving his post as a U.S. diplomat, Kiesling blasted the Bush administration for essentially taking giant leaps backward in foreign diplomacy. Diplomacy Lessons expands on the letter, offering an insider’s view of what it means to be an American diplomat and tracing the unraveling of foreign relations as the United States barreled into war with Iraq. The book is laced with cynicism as Kiesling laments numerous U.S. missteps and details his transformation into a “State Department realist.” That’s not to say the book isn’t inspiring, though: Kiesling openly embraces his role as champion of the antiwar movement and voices hope that his actions will sway some conservative minds.

Rachel Anderson

NEVER GIVE UP: Vignettes from Sub-Saharan Africa in the Age of AIDS

by Kevin Winge (Syren)

Equal parts soul-searching memoir, culturally sensitive travelogue, and unabashed call to arms, Kevin Winge’s Never Give Up delivers raw, often touching dispatches from a post-9/11 South Africa ravaged by poverty and handcuffed by bureaucratic incompetence, at home and abroad. These stories not only humanize the HIV/AIDS pandemic, they also force readers to reexamine their preconceptions and the West’s inexcusable lack of outrage. Whether he’s introducing us to a domestic as she commutes from the bare-bones shacks of Khayelitsha Township to the insulated homes of Cape Town; stunned silent in an overcrowded, makeshift morgue as a broken family plans a funeral; recounting unspeakable episodes of sexual violence; or remembering a 12-year-old girl who couldn’t afford shoes for school, the author consistently, convincingly brandishes the only weapon that might yet save us: empathy.

David Schimke

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