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David Halberstam, The Fifties (1993)

Okay, it's more than 700 pages long, but Halberstam's journalistic writing style will take you on a fascinating and always lively tour of the decade, from Marilyn Monroe to Mohammed Mossadegh and from hula hoops to hydrogen bombs.

Allen Ginsberg, Howl and other Poems (1956)

The long poem "Howl" established the Beat movement as the alternative to the white-bread Fifties. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness," Ginsberg begins, and goes off on an extended rant against the current order and in favor of a passionate approach to life. The poem gave a voice to the outsiders of the day and influenced the counterculture that would emerge in the Sixties.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Salinger's well-known novel embodied much of the alienation of the Fifties in his character Holden Caufield. Its enduring popularity has shaped later readers' view of that decade.

Piers Brendon, Ike: His Life and Times (1986)

British writer Brendon brings a both sympathy and distance to his biography. He recognizes the paradoxes of Eisenhower's life and of the time in which he lived. His book is a balanced biography of a complex man.

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