Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir

by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 224 pages

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Elsewhere in the 1950s.

While many in the USA experienced an unprecedented economic boom in the 1950s, what was happening elsewhere?

Europe: The division of Europe into West and East persisted. The foundations for the European Community were laid. Rationing continued in some Western countries (e.g. in Britain up until 1953), but post-war reconstruction was booming, due to the Marshall Plan (a four year plan instigated in 1947 during which about $13 billion of economic and technical assistance was given by the USA to certain European countries. At the end of the four years, the economies of every participating country except Germany had exceeded their pre-war levels.

The Middle East: The increasing importance of oil gave an economic boost to many Middle Eastern countries, but the ruling elite were the main ones to benefit. The fledgling state of Israel spent most of the decade in a 'state of austerity' as it tried to accommodate the approx. 250,000 Holocaust survivors who flocked to Israel, and many of the 800,000 or so Jewish refugees that were expelled from Arab countries, in response to the approx. 700,000 Arab refugees created by the founding of Israel.

Africa: Many countries achieved independence as the European colonists started to withdraw, but government corruption was rife, as were border conflicts, disease and famine.

Asia: In China, Mao Tse-Tung led the revolution against the Nationalist government, instigating his "Great Leap Forward", which was a leading cause of the "Three Years of Natural Disasters", at the end of the decade, during which about 38 million people died from widespread famine. The Korean War came and went. The First Indochina War in Vietnam ended with the defeat of the USA backed French and the partitioning of Vietnam into North and South, but American involvement in the region continued, eventually leading to the Second Indochina War ("Vietnam War").

The Caribbean: Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista regime; Haiti gained a new dictator.

The Soviet Union: Stalin died, democratic uprisings were suppressed in Poland and Hungry. Cold War tensions increased. Sputnik was launched.

Australia became a formal military ally of the USA. Mass immigration from Europe continued.

This article was originally published in October 2006, and has been updated for the September 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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