Half a century is forever and no time at all – a blink of the eye in history that can change the world. The decades fly by, and it is hard to remember the heady optimism of the 1950s. We were a superpower on a fast track to the future. Time magazine had already proclaimed it the American Century in 1941. Doubt and irony were not in style.
With hindsight and revisionist scholarship, we can see a more complex picture; the ’50s were also a time of quiet subversion, when certainties were being shattered and the groundwork laid for the unrest of the ’60s and ’70s, for a societal and cultural revolution fed by the disillusionment of Vietnam and the rejection of established norms and ideals. We are just beginning to understand the full significance of what was happening and where it led.