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Eric Burns is a former correspondent for NBC News and the Today Show. He has won an Emmy for media criticism. He is the author of The Golden Lad: The Haunting Story of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt; Infamous Scribblers; The Spirits of America; and The Smoke of the Gods. Eric lives in Westport, mostra'n més Connecticut. mostra'n menys

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television journalist



I love a good history book, especially one that takes a look at post-WWII America, so one titled 1957: THE YEAR THAT LAUNCHED THE AMERICAN FUTURE was an easy choice to pick up and read. But this slim volume, written by journalist Eric Burns, is not an objective chronicle of the year, but more of a subjective journey through those months where each chapter is devoted to an event that Burns considers a catalyst for changes unforeseen in the decades ahead, or whose influence on the country and culture were considerable. There is little in the book on the politics of the era, and almost nothing on the international situation, but as I said, this is a very subjective look back. Some of the things Burns touches on are well known, while other figures and events are head scratching obscure, or just plain forgotten in time.

The opening and closing chapters concern the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite, which opened the era of space exploration, and was seen at the time as a huge Cold War triumph of the Communist system over the decadent capitalists of America. Burns recounts how the American space program stumbled badly literally trying to get off the ground, but how in the end, NASA quickly surpassed the Commies, and how the space program has paid technological dividends ever sense, making much of our digital age possible. It’s a story told often before, but it deserves to be reiterated if only be reminded of why an investment in the future is always a good bet, especially over short term gain. In the same vein, Burns discusses Eisenhower’s push to build the interstate highway system, which helped unite the country in a way we take for granted now. This dovetails into a discussion of the Ford Motor Company’s failure with the Edsel, a permanent crack in the façade of competence corporate America had enjoyed in the postwar years. The vitriolic hatred and ugliness of Southern Whites in front of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas when a handful of Black students tried to integrate the segregated school system, was the Fort Sumter of the second American Civil War, and though Burns doesn’t explicitly connect the dots, the reader can easily see how this clash has echoed down through the years since. Billy Graham saves souls at his “crusades,” while Ayn Rand publishes ATLAS SHRUGGED, and argued that man didn’t need a soul to save, all he needed was himself and a will to succeed where his inferiors failed. Baseball leaves Brooklyn and moves to California, helping make it a true national sport. A “mad bomber” in New York gives rise to tabloid journalism, and the mass arrest of a gathering of mob bosses at Apalachin in upstate New York, along with the lurid murder of Albert Anatasia, began a long public fascination with organized crime. Burns has some interesting takes on culture: he really doesn’t like Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, while still acknowledging its impact, and he has some nice things to say about Rand even if he doesn’t agree with her. I’m glad he brings up Nevile Shute’s ON THE BEACH, a book that had a big impact on me when I read it as a teenager. His chapter on the Broadway success of WEST SIDE STORY told me more about why Leonard Bernstein was a big deal than Bradley Cooper’s biopic, MAESTRO. I will defend his chapter on I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, the inclusion of which baffled some other reviewers. The film was essential in the rise of the youth culture, especially in the cheap exploitation of it, and was pivotal in mashing up the horror genre and teenagers, something that has flourished ever since; if we had not gotten Michael Landon in that werewolf makeup, would we have gotten Scooby-Doo? Burns has a familiar take on the influence of rock n’ roll, but again, it is one that bears repeating. And I like it that he gives some attention to Ricky Nelson, and was every bit a rock star in his own right. Even more so was Little Richard, who makes a couple of pertinent appearances in the book.

On the downside, there are a couple of nits I would pick with this book, starting with some noticeable typos, which is becoming more common in professional publishing as budgets are being slashed. And it seems they skimped on an editor as well. There are some embarrassing factual errors: the before mentioned Albert Anatasia and Joe McCarthy did not die on the same day that year, and the film version of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE was not released in 1957, but 1961. The big war movie that year was David Lean’s THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which is not mentioned at all. Some might question why single out 1957 as such a consequential year, aren’t all years a bridge between the past and the future? Certainly, and a case can be made that 1960 or 1963 were more impactful on history going forward than ’57. But I would argue that 1957 was a year of still waters running deep, where much was happening that didn’t always meet the eye. Those are the kind of discussions that make history interesting, reminding us of who did what when, and why it matters now. Eric Burns’ take on 1957 is a short and easy read, and I think he makes his case well even to those who might beg to differ.
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wb4ever1 | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | Feb 19, 2024 |
Review of: 1957: The Year That Launched the American Future, by Eric Burns
by Stan Prager (9-15-22)

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent geopolitical shock waves across the planet with the launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite. Sputnik was only twenty-three inches in diameter, transmitted radio signals for a mere twenty-one days, then burned up on reentry just three months after first achieving orbit, but it literally changed everything. Not only were the dynamics of the Cold War permanently altered by what came to be dubbed the “Space Race,” but the success of Sputnik ushered in a dramatic new era for developments in science and technology. I was not quite six months old.
America was to later win that race to the moon, but despite its fearsome specter as a diabolical power bent on world domination, the USSR turned out to be a kind of vast Potemkin Village that almost noiselessly went out of business at the close 1991. The United States had pretty much lost interest in space travel by then, but that was just about the time that the next critical phase in the emerging digital age—widespread public access to personal computers and the internet—first wrought the enormous changes upon the landscape of American life that today might have Gen Z “zoomers” considering 1957 as something like a date out of ancient times.
And now, as this review goes to press—in yet still one more recycle of Mark Twain’s bon mot “History Doesn't Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes”—NASA temporarily scrubbed the much anticipated blastoff of lunar-bound Artemis I, but a real space race is again fiercely underway, although this time the rivals include not only Russia, but China and a whole host of billionaires, at least one of whom could potentially fit a template for a “James Bond” style villain. And while all this is going on, I recently registered for Medicare.
Sixty-five years later, there’s a lot to look back on. In 1957: The Year That Launched the American Future (2020), a fascinating, fast-paced chronicle manifested by articulately rendered, thought-provocative chapter-length essays, author and journalist Eric Burns reminds us of what a pivotal year that proved to be, not only by kindling that first contest to dominate space, but in multiple other arenas of the social, political, and cultural, much that is only apparent in retrospect.
That year, while Sputnik stoked alarms that nuclear-armed Russians would annihilate the United States with bombs dropped from outer space, tabloid journalism reached what was then new levels of the outrageous exploiting “The Mad Bomber of New York,” who turned out to be a pathetic little fellow whose series of explosives actually claimed not a single fatality. In another example of history’s unintended consequences, a congressional committee investigating illegal labor activities helped facilitate Jimmy Hoffa’s takeover of the Teamsters. A cloak of mystery was partially lifted from organized crime activities with a very public police raid at Apalachin that rounded up Mafia bosses by the score. The iconic ’57 Chevy ruled the road and cruised on newly constructed interstate highways that would revolutionize travel as well as wreak havoc on cityscapes. African Americans remained second-class citizens but struggles for equality ignited a series of flashpoints. In September 1957, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent Army troops to Little Rock to enforce desegregation. That same month, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, watered-down yet still landmark legislation that paved the way for more substantial action ahead. Published that year were Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. Michael Landon starred in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Little Richard, who claimed to see Sputnik while performing in concert and took it as a message from God, abruptly walked off stage and abandoned rock music to preach the word of the Lord. But the nation’s number one hit was Elvis Presley’s All Shook Up; rock n’ roll was here to stay.
Burns’ commentary on all this and more is engaging and generally a delight to read, but 1957 is by no means a comprehensive history of that year. In fact, it is a stretch to term this book a history at all except in the sense that the events it describes occurred in the past. Instead, it is rather a subjective collection of somewhat loosely linked commentaries that spotlight specific events and emerging trends that the author identifies as formative for the nation we would become in decades that followed. As such, the book succeeds due to Burn’s keen sense of how both key episodes as well as more subtle cultural waves influenced a country in transition from the conventional, consensus-driven postwar years to the radicalized, tumultuous times that lay just ahead.
His insight is most apparent in his cogent analysis of how Civil Rights advanced not only through lunch-counter sit-ins and a reaction that was marked by violent repression, but by cultural shifts among white Americans—and that rock n’ roll had at least some role in this evolution of outlooks. At the same time, his conservative roots are exposed in his treatment of On the Road and the rise of the “Beat generation;” Burns genuinely seems as baffled by their emergence as he is amazed that anyone could praise Kerouac’s literary talents. But, to his credit, he recognizes the impact the novel has upon a national audience that no longer could confidently boast of a certainty in its destiny. And it is Burns’ talent with a pen that captivates a markedly different audience, some sixty-five years later.
In the end, the author leaves us yearning for more. After all, other than references that border on the parenthetical to Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, and Dag Hammarskjöld, there is almost no discussion of national politics or international relations, essential elements in any study of a nation at what the author insists is at a critical juncture. Even more problematic, very conspicuous in its absence is the missing chapter that should have been devoted to television. In 1950, 3.9 million TV sets were in less than ten percent of American homes. By 1957, that number increased roughly tenfold to 38.9 million TVs in the homes of nearly eighty percent of the population! That year, I Love Lucy aired its final half-hour episode, but in addition to network news, families were glued to their black-and-white consoles watching Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock, Lassie, You Bet Your Life, and Red Skelton. For the World War II generation, technology that brought motion pictures into their living rooms was something like miraculous. Nothing was more central to the identity of the life of the average American in 1957 than television, but Burns inexplicably ignores it.
Other than Sputnik, which clearly marked a turning-point for science and exploration, it is a matter of some debate whether 1957 should be singled out for demarcation as the start of a new era. One could perhaps argue instead for the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, or with even greater conviction, for the date of his assassination in 1963, as a true crossroads of sorts for the past and future United States. Still, if for no other reason than the conceit that this was my birth year, I am willing to embrace Burns’ thesis that 1957 represented a collective critical moment for us all. Either way, his book promises an impressive tour of a time that seems increasingly more distant with the passing of each and every day.

Review of: 1957: The Year That Launched the American Future, by Eric Burns
… (més)
1 vota
Garp83 | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | Sep 15, 2022 |
Considered one of the most beautiful woman in the families upper class society, Eleanor Roosevelt's mother, the former Anna Rebecca Ludlow Hall, saw dashing, handsome, charming Elliott Roosevelt and sought to gain his affection. Her beauty won his heart and their large wedding set high standards for those to follow.

Brother of Theodore Roosevelt, Elliott's charms were compared to the boisterous and exceedingly bravado-driven Teddy.
Well dressed, handsome, Elliott fit very well into New York high society. He was considered quite the man to win, and as he drank the finest wines, and expensive champagne, dining in the best houses in New York, he was the popular scion of the very wealthy Roosevelt family.

Traveling throughout the world, early on, Elliott had a penchant for drinking his days away. When she married Elliott, she had no idea that by that time, he was well on his way to alcoholism, and later drug consumption.

At birth, when her mother first looked at her, Anne Eleanor Roosevelt she was deemed a very ugly baby. Furthermore, she said "There were too many wrinkles and the baby looked like an old lady."

There was little interaction, and throughout her childhood and adult life, her mother continued to both taunt and ignore her. As a child, while Anna Eleanor's two younger brothers were welcomed into her mother's arms, while Anna Eleanor was forced to wait outside the library, observing the love given to others. She stood, fingers in her mouth, for an inordinate amount of time before her mother's terse voice said "Ok, you can come in now grannie."

Her protruding teeth went without correction. Her clothes were out of style. Lonely, she sought the solace of books, and hid in a large cherry tree reading for hours. Her coming out party was filled with fear and a deep knowledge that she did not fit in.

While her mother scorned her, it was her father who from the first moment he saw her, adored her. She was his beautiful, soulful daughter, and he was the only one who, not only paid attention to her, but throughout his life, was very intentional in shaping and loving his beautiful gem.

This is the story of the love that saved Eleanor from her mother's admonishment, and shaped her for the rest of her life.

The book is very well written, well researched and fascinating. Sadly, Eleanor's father died of alcoholism when she was a mere ten years old. He remained in her heart and soul, and it was his words that she heard as throughout her life, she not only became the extremely admired wife of her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but was a strong advocate for women's rights, the need to enact systems to help the poor, and create a fair wage and working conditions for those toiling 16 hour days for little pay under terrible conditions.

Throughout her travels, wherever she was, she brought the stack of letters her father had written to her, kissing the letter well-worn, torn from many years of wear.

Four Stars
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Whisper1 | Sep 8, 2019 |
Starting with the mysterious and famous Wall Street bombing that took place in January of 1920, Eric Burns takes us through the many ups and downs of the year he pens "that made the decade roar". We all think of the roaring twenties as an easy-go-lucky times of frolicking flappers dancing the nights away and of the endless flow of booze behind secret speakeasy doors! Not so. Although there was a little of that going on, it was not as much as we have been lead to believe and times then were hard and at times dangerous. There was no money, there was no easy way to acquire pure alcohol, much went into obtaining any amount of booze, whether from Canada or from unethical ingredients.

Covering events such as the Volstead Act, better known as the 18th Amendment, or what we call the Prohibition era, Eric Burns writes a wonderful account of the trials and tribulations of the American People that year. Details on the rum running and rotgut whiskey creations, the occurrences that would lead up to the Depression, and the exciting battle to be won for the Women's Right to Vote are revealed in a very readable manner that reads like fiction. The author's style for this history book is not dry and factual as some can be and I found it engrossing to learn the details of this troublesome time in our country's history.

It was fun to learn about one of our bright lights, the birth of Jazz, and how Louis Armstrong, New Orlean's Boy Wonder started it all at a very young age. On the dark side, learning about the rise and growth of the Klu Klux Klan was deeply disturbing. Burn's retelling of the West Virginia coal miner's strike that caused fear in the hearts of Americans who worried about getting through the winter cold weather without heat, and how Teddy Roosevelt then President had to step in and negotiate us out of the mess, was also an eye-opening situation that can make us understand how very hard life in in the past was, and how incredibly lucky we are today.

There are two chapters that I found the highlights of the book. The first being the life and work of Margaret Sanger who fought for women to obtain birth control and her life work that ended up starting the Planned Parenthood Program. The second was the incredible life of con-man and financial wizard, Carlo Ponzi. He created the "Get-Rich-Quick Scheme" and was often sliding just a bit over the line of law and found himself in and out of jail, and exiled from country to country for his evil ways.

1920 was the year that Americans could first hear a radio broadcast so they could listen to election details, music and sports. It was also the year of the disastrous Harding administration, an incompetent President who hung out with his circle of criminal friends that were called the Ohio Gang. Ending this year of roller coaster events, Eric Burns finishes off with an interesting report on how new authors and styles of fictional novels turned the tide for literary history, as well as describes the wonderful world of the Harlem Renaissance and the great effects it had on the African Americans of the time.

I feel bad that there are a lot of negative or average reviews for this tremendously researched and marvelous retelling of an important year of our past. I absolutely loved the book and Highly recommend it to anyone who loves history. Five Star read for sure!
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vernefan | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Jul 26, 2018 |


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