• The Free World

  • Art and Thought in the Cold War
  • By: Louis Menand
  • Narrated by: David Colacci
  • Length: 34 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (131 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

"Narrator David Colacci approaches this opinionated, engrossing audiobook with a practiced voice that lets its numerous stories tell themselves without fanfare...this audiobook is a monumental work." (AudioFile Magazine)

In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years.

The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense - economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind.

How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of “freedom” applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? With the wit and insight familiar to listeners of The Metaphysical Club and his New Yorker essays, Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt’s Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s residencies at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post-war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg’s friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin’s transformation into a Civil Rights spokesman, Susan Sontag’s challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood.

Stressing the rich flow of ideas across the Atlantic, he also shows how Europeans played a vital role in promoting and influencing American art and entertainment. By the end of the Vietnam era, the American government had lost the moral prestige it enjoyed at the end of the Second World War, but America’s once-despised culture had become respected and adored. With unprecedented verve and range, this book explains how that happened.  

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2021 Louis Menand (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

2021 National Book Awards - Longlist

2021 Time Magazine Best Books of the Year

2021 Washington Post Best Books of the Year

2021 New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year

2021 Minneapolis Star Tribune Holiday Book

What listeners say about The Free World

Average Customer Ratings
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Cuts off mid-sentence and never ends!

Did anybody at Audible check the recording? It cuts off mid-sentence, credits follow, but the last chapter (I assume) never ends. Ends on a half-sentence in part 5 of what I think is the last chapter — the recording is missing the ending!

It is an EXCELLENT book, and I want to hear the ending. Will update and revise the review if and when Audible created a corrected version that actually has the ending.

18 people found this helpful

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Final chapter cut off part way through.

Often fascinating collection of essays about various figures and events from the period immediately after the Second World War to part way through the Viet Nam war. Unfortunately, in this recording, the final chapter is cut off abruptly so that the listener is deprived of whatever summation the author intended.

13 people found this helpful

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Once Again

How many listeners have to complain that the book cuts off in midsentence toward the end before Audible does something about it ??? There are already multiple reviews mentioning this problem.

8 people found this helpful

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Recording cut off

The end cut off, which was disappointing. Audible needs to re-release it so we can hear how it ends.

6 people found this helpful

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Excellent book!

Great book and history of the 1945 - 1965 era. Can't say enough about it. If you've never understood modern art this book will help too. Totally unexpected ending about the CIA (you gotta read it). Many prominent arts and social movements of the era are covered -- Menand distills it all through mini-biographies. One of the best things about the book is that for every arts and social movements' controversies Menand presents the other side of, and push back to, those controversies.

3 people found this helpful

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Audio abruptly cuts off mid sentence near the end!

The book is great and the narrator is excellent. However, the audio simply cuts off abruptly some time before the end of the book. I have no idea how much of the conclusion I missed. If I could return the book I would, for that reason.

2 people found this helpful

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His Audible book is not complete!

The Audible edition of The Free World cut off about 10 paragraphs before the end of chapter 18. Please correct.

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant but weak ion women's contribution

Louis Menand is a wonderful writer and introduces new insights when covering even well-known material. However, I was somewhat taken aback at the emphasis on male contributors. Even when introducing a remarkable figure such as Simone de Beauvoir he primarily discusses her relationship with Sartre but says very little about here contributions to philosophy and feminism. Later when he mentions the impact of feminism and at least discusses Betty Friedan, it feels like this section was an after thought. I am a man, and well aware of how much intellectual thought was driven, at least publicly, by men, and yet in this day and age you would expect a writer who is covering such a broad intellectual landscape to be more sensitive to the contributions of women.

1 person found this helpful

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The free world not as free as we thought?

I listened twice! It’s a long book, and parts I’m not interested in at all, even second time through. Many other parts are enlightening, like Black Mountain College, the New Criticism, “I Take My Stand,” Kenyon and Sewanee, Black writers, many more. Mr. Menand has a great mind, a broad mind, an expansive mind; and exploring this book was very much worth doing. I also bought a hard copy to refer to because I HATE murdered French pronunciation. That’s my criticism of the performer: his French.

1 person found this helpful

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Musicians will chuckle

Narrator does a fine job, but hilariously calls John Cage’s 4’ 33” “Four feet, thirty-three inches” throughout.

1 person found this helpful