I was reading the afterword to Lewis Hyde’s The Gift last night, and was struck by his claim that “it was the cold war that energized much of the public funding devoted to art and science in the decades after the Second World War.” According to Hyde, at first, much of that funding was covert; after Sputnik, advancing science and art became a more direct government aim. But then, “after the Soviet Union fell in 1989 so did the bulk of public patronage in the West.”
The later evaporation of public funding for the arts is of great interest to me, but this earlier arc—the phase where funding was urgent yet covert—fascinates me, in part because it’s never crossed my radar. Did you know the 1950s CIA patronized Abstract Expressionism indirectly? Neither did I! But according to Hyde, the whole story is detailed in a book titled The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, by Frances Stonor Saunders.
I need to read this book. I was ready to buy it for Kindle, but no luck—paperback only. I would get it from the library at Harvard, but I won’t be back there for another month and a half.
So I had an idea. If the premise of The Cultural Cold War sparked your interest as it sparked mine, let’s read it together. I’ve put up a
one-item Amazon Wish List containing this book and this book alone, linked to my summer address. If it magically appears on my doorstep, I will bump it to the top of my reading list, read it with fascination, and then write up my thoughts about it here on the blog. And this is the part I’m most excited about: if you include your address along with the book (I think you can list it in the “Gift Note” field on Amazon for free), I’ll send you that very copy after I’m finished. With or without marginalia—your choice.
If no one takes me up on this, it’s no problem—I’ll get the book from the library when I’m back at school, and I’ll read it with great interest, eventually. But this seemed too fun not to try, so I’m trying it. I’ll be very curious to see what happens!
Send The Cultural Cold War to my summer address, if you dare.
Update: WOW, that was fast! 15 minutes flat! After much vigorous refreshing, I’ve confirmed that the book is gone from the wish list…which I think means someone sent it to me. Thank you, mysterious sender! More as this unfolds.