Must Read Book

Corey, Mary, The World Through a Monocle (1999).

The World Through a Monocle is Corey's history of The New Yorker magazine, its writers, its readers, and its place in the twentieth century American cultural matrix. This funny, passionate, beautifully written, and endlessly provocative book examines the New Yorker and its world in the early postwar period. It brilliantly reads and reinterprets the fiction, the cartoons, the occasional pieces, the serious essays, and perhaps most important, the advertisements, explicating the ways the magazine instructed a generation of up-and-coming educated Americans on what to eat, wear, read, and think. Much more than the so-called New York intellectuals that surrounded the Partisan Review in the 1930s (and who have occasioned dozens of books), The New Yorker, a magazine of far greater duration, circulation, and influence, defined and shaped a crucial episode in twentieth century intellectual and cultural history. Corey's book is full of wonderful insighs and revealing surrises. One chapter reconsiders the famous "divorce" between the editorial and advertising sides of the New Yorker. Astutely interpreting the dialogue between articles and advertising in The New Yorker, Corey exposes the ambivalent, contradictory response of literate America to postwar affluence. Another fascinating section examines men, women, and the discontents of domestic life in the early post-war era. In the pages of the New Yorker, Corey finds a variety of arguments about and representations of the "war between the sexes." The New Yorker, Corey demonstrates, fundamentally challenged the depictions of home life in the Saturday Evening Post, Life, other periodicals, movies and books. Corey's study suggests that the veneration of home and family was a good deal more complicated, and far less omnipresent even in mainstream media, than most previous historians have suggested. Similarly, Corey's chapter, "Beyond the Manhattan Skyline" offers more than a nuanced reading of the New Yorker community's collective wrestling with McCarthyism, the UN, and the Korean War. It elucidates the development of a culture of opposition in the early Cold War--a genuine dissent against Cold war orthodoxy--but a cultural rather than a political stance, an explicit focus on taste as well as ideology.

Recommended by Bruce J. Schulman, Boston University

Professor Schulman is the author of From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980 (1991), Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism (1995), and The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics. In 1989-90 he was director of the History Project in California, a joint effort of the University of California and the California State Department of Education to improve history education in the public schools. In 1993, as Associate Professor at UCLA, Schulman received the Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award and the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching. In September 1997 he became Director of the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University.