The Origins of Cool in Postwar America (Hardcover)

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It's contemptible to consider definitions of "cool" in this day and age, when there are more important things to worry about. But any book examining the careers of Lorraine Hansberry (lit & social), Albert Camus (philosophy), and Lester Young (jazz), among a coterie of others, through the prism of so-called post-War cool and its socio-political ramifications, is fun and alright with me, Daddy-O.

— Doug


Cool. It was a new word and a new way to be, and in a single generation, it became the supreme compliment of American culture. The Origins of Cool in Postwar America uncovers the hidden history of this concept and its new set of codes that came to define a global attitude and style. As Joel Dinerstein reveals in this dynamic book, cool began as a stylish defiance of racism, a challenge to suppressed sexuality, a philosophy of individual rebellion, and a youthful search for social change.

Through eye-opening portraits of iconic figures, Dinerstein illuminates the cultural connections and artistic innovations among Lester Young, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, among others. We eavesdrop on conversations among Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Miles Davis, and on a forgotten debate between Lorraine Hansberry and Norman Mailer over the "white Negro" and black cool. We come to understand how the cool worlds of Beat writers and Method actors emerged from the intersections of film noir, jazz, and existentialism. Out of this mix, Dinerstein sketches nuanced definitions of cool that unite concepts from African-American and Euro-American culture: the stylish stoicism of the ethical rebel loner; the relaxed intensity of the improvising jazz musician; the effortless, physical grace of the Method actor. To be cool is not to be hip and to be hot is definitely not to be cool.

This is the first work to trace the history of cool during the Cold War by exploring the intersections of film noir, jazz, existential literature, Method acting, blues, and rock and roll. Dinerstein reveals that they came together to create something completely new--and that something is cool.

About the Author

Joel Dinerstein was the curator of American Cool, an acclaimed exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, and the author of its accompanying catalog. He is also the author of the award-winning Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African-American Culture and Coach: A History of New York Cool. He is a cultural historian and professor of English at Tulane University.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226152653
ISBN-10: 0226152650
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2017
Pages: 541
Language: English