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Only yesterday

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Only Yesterday
Only Yesterday is a historic masterpiece by Frederick Lewis Allen that gives the reader a glimpse of the uncharted period of the 1920s and America’s hyper transformation, from 1919 spilling over into the 1930s. The book paints the remarkable cultural portrait of the U.S. in a catastrophic period where lawlessness took precedence. Allen uses his literary ingenuity to retell a story of the post-war period, a decade that was characterized by the reign of Al Capone, the unprecedented boosterism of businesses, as well as the risqué touch of music and dancing style. Only Yesterday is more than just a dramatic novel, but a fact-filled exposé of the events that governed the roaring twenties, with Allen’s account largely focusing on the urban bourgeoisie of the White Americans.
Allen illustrates the cultural Renaissance from the point of view of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a middle-class couple in America. His depiction of the detailed lifestyle of the couple helps the reader understand and contrast how Americans lived before and after the periods that followed World War I and World War II. For instance, he vividly describes the difficulty in starting a car in those days. The post-war decade also saw a revolution in morals and the absurd fascination with individuality. This social change swept both men and women across America, with the advent of cosmetics, raunchy dances, and short skirts becoming the vogue. The language also changed, and the use of certain phrased, such as “hell” and “damn,” became commonplace.

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Allen’s book closely follows the transition of the American culture from a period governed by irritability and restlessness to a culture of relaxation. The wave brought by broadcasting radio rocked America, with political and sporting events aired on the radio sparking nationwide interest. The popularity of sports figures soared, and attendance records in stadia and another sporting arena continuously set new records. Only Yesterday also provides an account of how the popularity of the computer and the television captured Americans, which enamored the nation’s hunger for amusement. Being a journalist, Allen draws attention to the most authoritative and trusted newspapers of the 1920s, which included Chicago Tribune and New York Tribune.
The prosperity witnessed during the roaring twenties would soon flounder in the wake of plummeting stock prices in 1929. As stock prices slumped, so did the high spirits of the American public. The stock market crash came on the back of a once strong economy, a past era when the Ford automobile, advertising, and salesmen enjoyed immense success. Moreover, Tabloids became like a drug of choice, with Americans craving for great fervor. However, the altered reality brought by the despondency resulting from the stock market slump led to new habits and extensive adjustments in how Americans went about life. The economic crush caused people to change their mindsets, and a wave of inflation ushered in a new nation, with a different set of values.
Only Yesterday remains a valuable account of the events that shaped American culture. Allen’s touch of humor and deft writing implores the reader to appreciate the essence of true American history. Even though the book largely overlooks the African-American culture and superficially mentions jazz, these blind spots are outweighed by the book’s smash-up of the unforgotten events. The book lays a firm foundation for enlightening both current and future readers. Allen offers a valuable lesson, which is that people should learn to control the excesses of their indulgences in times of prosperity.

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