Louis Menand on ‘The Free World’

Louis Menand’s new book, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War,” covers the interchange of arts and ideas between the United States and Europe in the decades after World War II. On this week’s podcast, Menand talks about the book, including why he chose to frame his telling from the end of the war until 1965.

“What I didn’t get right away was the extent to which what happened in American culture — both at the level of avant-garde art, like John Cage’s music, and at the level of Hollywood movies — was influenced by countries around the world,” Menand says. “When American culture comes into its own — because before 1945, I think, nobody really thought of America as a central player in world culture; that changes in the ’60s — but when that happens, culture becomes global, becomes international. So that when you get to 1965, you sort of recognize the world that we’re in today, in which culture circulates globally but all circulates through New York and Los Angeles. So I thought it was a very exciting period of social change and a very exciting period of cultural change.”

Phillip Lopate has edited many acclaimed anthologies throughout his career, but his latest project might be his most ambitious: three volumes of American essays from colonial times to the present day. “The Glorious American Essay” was published last year; “The Golden Age of the American Essay” arrived last month; and “The Contemporary American Essay” will be available this summer.

“I’m really trying to expand the notion of what an essay is,” Lopate says on the podcast. “So I’ve included essays that are in the form of letters, like Frederick Douglass’s letter to his master. I’ve included essays in the form of sermons, like Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher. I’ve included essays in the form of rants. I’m just trying to get people to see the essay as occurring in many, many different forms.”

Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and Gregory Cowles talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

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