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Perlstein's book on the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign and the rise of American conservatism will app ear from Hill & Wang next year.
A MID THE GORGEOUS rolling scenery one passes on a drive into Ithaca, N.Y., PW hardly notices an empty county fairgrounds. But it comes to life when Michael Kammen describes it. For the Cornell historian, it is an endangered example of the best of what American culture has to offer. "Some time in the next month there will be a county fair there' he says. "There will be an interaction among people who may not see each other all that often. It may be an occasion for getting together; it may be an occasion for boy meets girl, maybe for the first time. There'll be serendipitous circumstances, a variety of games will be played. It will be very interactive, it will be very small-time--a whole series of face-to-face relationships that are intensely participatory. It's the exact opposite of the privatization of culture that we can document with the coming of television in the late '40s."
We are sitting on the cantilevered deck overlooking Lake Cayuga at Kammen's magnificent hilltop home, El Nido, just outside Ithaca, that he and his wife, Carol, built after their two adult sons flew the coop in 1984. As Kammen gets to the nub of the argument of his new book, American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century, it is one of the few times in a two-hour interview that the words don't come out in carefully squared-off paragraphs. Many of those paragraphs come almost verbatim from the book; he is a precise writer who knows what he thinks. He doesn't riff. Arrayed in his summer work clothes of shorts and a T-shirt, Kammen is a careful host. He proudly calls his work ethic "Calvinist." That discipline probably explains why …