The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006) is Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in Des Moines in the 50's and 60's. As much as I generally love Bryson's work, I picked up his memoir with some trepidation, worried that it would be filled with a particular brand of Baby Boomer self-absorption that I as a member of the following generation (Bryson was born in 1951, I in 1971) find more than a little tiresome. But it wasn't--or, at least, to the degree it was, it wasn't beyond my powers to relate to it. He talks a lot about the uniqueness of his childhood world, the world before the ubiquity of chain stores, and I can relate to that, if only because I grew up in what in the 70's and early 80's was a rural backwater that got chained a few decades later than more cosmopolitan corners of America. (It's not a backwater anymore. It's practically a Birmingham suburb, and every chain you could imagine is within half an hour's drive.)
Bryson's 1950's were by and large a happy place, but he acknowledges the dark side of the era--racism, McCarthyism and the HUAC, etc. And I have to say, as much as I've complained about the excesses of the Patriot Act and government surveillance post 9/11, it sounds like the constraints on civil liberties were actually worse during the height of the Red Scare. Which gives me hope that America will survive this particular crisis with democracy intact, too.