My plan this month—to return to the subject I touched on last June, of history in the eyes of the journalist—suffered a blow when I tuned in to The Fifties, a series based on David Halberstam’s book of the same name, which ran on the History Channel in late November and early December. I found that I could not watch more than the first hour and a half of its eight hours. The surfeit of clichés proved overpowering. Of course, one expected the clichés of bad writing (“To paraphrase Dickens,” intoned the narrator with comic solemnity, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”), which are a hazard of all TV watching; also, the clichés of political content (Senator Joseph McCarthy does his inevitable star turn as the principal manifestation of “anti-Communist hysteria,” which was created by the American-led “arms race”)...


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