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Outside the Gates of Eden

The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now

Publication supported by the Neil Harris Endowment Fund

Exhilaration and anxiety, the yearning for community and the quest for identity: these shared, contradictory feelings course through Outside the Gates of Eden, Peter Bacon Hales’s ambitious and intoxicating new history of America from the atomic age to the virtual age.
Born under the shadow of the bomb, with little security but the cold comfort of duck-and-cover, the postwar generations lived through—and led—some of the most momentous changes in all of American history. Hales explores those decades through perceptive accounts of a succession of resonant moments, spaces, and artifacts of everyday life—drawing unexpected connections and tracing the intertwined undercurrents of promise and peril. From sharp analyses of newsreels of the first atomic bomb tests and the invention of a new ideal American life in Levittown; from the music emerging from the Brill Building and the Beach Boys, and a brilliant account of Bob Dylan’s transformations; from the painful failures of communes and the breathtaking utopian potential of the early days of the digital age, Hales reveals a nation, and a dream, in transition, as a new generation began to make its mark on the world it was inheriting.
Full of richly drawn set-pieces and countless stories of unforgettable moments, Outside the Gates of Eden is the most comprehensive account yet of the baby boomers, their parents, and their children, as seen through the places they built, the music and movies and shows they loved, and the battles they fought to define their nation, their culture, and their place in what remains a fragile and dangerous world.

496 pages | 105 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2014

Film Studies

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: American History

Media Studies


"Outside the Gates of Eden looks at how American cultural landscapes have transformed and endured from the close of World War II to the first decade of the twenty-first century. Looking at diverse Cold War places and spaces--from suburban housing developments and atomic bomb testing sites to countercultural communes, Silicon Valley garages, and the virtual realms of computer gaming--Hales considers the significant impact that Cold War sensibilities, especially the persistent threat of nuclear devastation, have had on American understandings of self and national identity. Engaging, personal, and persuasive, Outside the Gates of Eden neatly synthesizes the lived experiences of postwar atomic anxiety and their enormous repercussions today."

Erika Doss, author of Memorial Mania

“In his new book, Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now, Peter Bacon Hales, known for his Atomic Spaces, sets the American nightmare of nuclear war against the American dream of peaceful suburban prosperity. He juxtaposes sites such as Levittown, New York, and Yucca Flat, Nevada, also known as Doom Town, where nuclear weapons were tested on tract houses in 1953. His penetrating analyses of American places as well as television shows, films, video games, and advertisements will appeal to readers in both American history and cultural studies.”

Dolores Hayden, author of Building Suburbia

"In Outside the Gates of Eden Peter Hales offers a stunning reinterpretation of US cultural history after 1945. It explores the shadows and promises of a nuclear world marked by excessive dreams and paranoia, simulated perfection and scenarios of disaster."

David E. Nye, author of America's Assembly Line

"Peter Bacon Hales’s Outside the Gates of Eden  is simply the best reading of post-World War II American culture we’ve had or are likely to get. Hales makes sense of the seemingly disparate elements of America, from Levittown to I Love Lucy, from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix, from the Atom Bomb to Pong. Beginning with the impossible reality of the atom bomb and ending with our retreat into the simulations of The Sims, Hales alternates between brilliant close readings of primary texts and comprehensive cultural analysis. Writing with authority at the top of his form, Hales has given us a text that is exciting as cultural history and essential for our self-understanding."

Miles Orvell, author of The Death and Life of Main Street

"This is an emphatically cultural history of the US from 1945 to the present. . . . The book’s approach to culture is expansive, taking in the scripts of television programmes and one iconic movie (Miracle on 34th Street), the various models of housing in the planned community of Levittown, New York, images of nuclear holocaust, the changing scope and design of video games, and the lyrics of popular songs. Hales’ goal is to examine 'how the most influential forms of media and cultural representations chose to frame the national struggle for identity and meaning.' He sees American identity as fragile, in constant need of reinvention and, since the first hovering mushroom cloud came to define a world always on the brink of annihilation, veering between fear and optimism."

Marilyn Young | Times Higher Education

Table of Contents

An Introduction
Chapter 1: The Atomic Sublime
Chapter 2: Bombing the West, 1951
Chapter 3: Tracking Shot: Miracle on 34th Street and the Birth of an Atomic America
Chapter 4: Looking at Levittown
Chapter 5: Levittown’s Palimpsest: Colored Skin
Chapter 6: Mr. Levitt’s Television
Chapter 7: The Incredible Exploding House, Yucca Flat, Nevada, March, 1953
Chapter 8: Lucy!
Chapter 9: Technologies of Space and Place, 1962
Chapter 10: Two Satellites, 1962
Chapter 11: Portable Communities: Radio, 1962
Chapter 12: Dylan’s America
Chapter 13: Hendrix on Mt. Pisgah
Chapter 14: Counter-Landscapes
Chapter 15: Retreating to Utopia
Chapter 16: Pong versus Computer Space, 1972
Chapter 17. Simerica

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