• The Free World

  • Art and Thought in the Cold War
  • By: Louis Menand
  • Narrated by: David Colacci
  • Length: 34 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (50 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years.

The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense - economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind.

How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of “freedom” applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? With the wit and insight familiar to listeners of The Metaphysical Club and his New Yorker essays, Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt’s Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s residencies at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post-war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg’s friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin’s transformation into a Civil Rights spokesman, Susan Sontag’s challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood.

Stressing the rich flow of ideas across the Atlantic, he also shows how Europeans played a vital role in promoting and influencing American art and entertainment. By the end of the Vietnam era, the American government had lost the moral prestige it enjoyed at the end of the Second World War, but America’s once-despised culture had become respected and adored. With unprecedented verve and range, this book explains how that happened.  

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2021 Louis Menand (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about The Free World

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Cuts off mid-sentence and never ends!

Did anybody at Audible check the recording? It cuts off mid-sentence, credits follow, but the last chapter (I assume) never ends. Ends on a half-sentence in part 5 of what I think is the last chapter — the recording is missing the ending!

It is an EXCELLENT book, and I want to hear the ending. Will update and revise the review if and when Audible created a corrected version that actually has the ending.

11 people found this helpful

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Final chapter cut off part way through.

Often fascinating collection of essays about various figures and events from the period immediately after the Second World War to part way through the Viet Nam war. Unfortunately, in this recording, the final chapter is cut off abruptly so that the listener is deprived of whatever summation the author intended.

8 people found this helpful

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Once Again

How many listeners have to complain that the book cuts off in midsentence toward the end before Audible does something about it ??? There are already multiple reviews mentioning this problem.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent book!

Great book and history of the 1945 - 1965 era. Can't say enough about it. If you've never understood modern art this book will help too. Totally unexpected ending about the CIA (you gotta read it). Many prominent arts and social movements of the era are covered -- Menand distills it all through mini-biographies. One of the best things about the book is that for every arts and social movements' controversies Menand presents the other side of, and push back to, those controversies.

3 people found this helpful

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Recording cut off

The end cut off, which was disappointing. Audible needs to re-release it so we can hear how it ends.

3 people found this helpful

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Audio abruptly cuts off mid sentence near the end!

The book is great and the narrator is excellent. However, the audio simply cuts off abruptly some time before the end of the book. I have no idea how much of the conclusion I missed. If I could return the book I would, for that reason.

1 person found this helpful

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Last 2m of book not recorded

It’s a panoramic account, but it doesn’t have a central thesis and that makes it kind of meandering. But it’s so good when it hits a subject you’re interested in

1 person found this helpful

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His Audible book is not complete!

The Audible edition of The Free World cut off about 10 paragraphs before the end of chapter 18. Please correct.

1 person found this helpful

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Praise

One of the most satisfactory Audible books I have heard. Menand’s. book is all I might have hoped for. Some people might have groused about omissions, but look what he is covering, how much ground! Recently I also read a and listened to Paul Johnson’s Modern Times. Same problem, except there was no problem. I just had a huge history of the times presented in the most enjoyable manner by two men whose erudition is very great.

1 person found this helpful

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Lots if details, no narrative arc. If you ate looking for any kind of analysis of cultural history, look elsewhere.

This might he a better book to read than to listen to. There are a lot of comparative numbers (e.g., attendance figures at one point vs later, numbers of books sold in one year vs another) which are hard to follow aurally. And the book is a long series of details. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the book. It is like a series of long New Yorker essays, on topics that appealed to the author, and that must have been fun to research, but to what end? The author anticipated he would be criticized for omitting topics, and I (along with my way entire book group) would be at the front of the line with that criticism. How can you talk about race relations without mentioning the integration of sports? How can you talk about the cold war without addressing the space race?

I had issues with the audio version as well. It ran out mid-sentence before the end of the book, in what I assume was the last chapter. Also, there is a lot of French in the book - book titles, essays, famous phrases. The reader’s attempt at pronouncing French words was so far off the mark as to make what he was trying to say unintelligible. (“Cahier” is NOT pronounced “ca-HEER”). Why not
invest an hour in the fundamentals of French pronunciation? That’s another reason to read the book, rather than listen to it.

Im not sorry to have read the book for the few factual nuggets it offered, but if you’re looking for any kind of analysis of cultural history, better look elsewhere.