Popular Fads and Crazes through American History. By Nancy Hendricks. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood, 2018. 2 vols. Acid-free $198 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5182-7). E-book Available (978-1-4408-5183-4), call for pricing.

While many aspects of American life and culture have changed and evolved, one commonality that remains a constant throughout the generations are the ever-changing passions and obsessions of the American people. Whether it be a new genre of music, innovative toys and games, or the latest fashion trends, these compulsions burn incredibly hot and often very fast. Not long after the establishment of whatever the latest craze may be, attentions drift away and onto the next hottest trend in the blink of an eye. Here to enlighten interested readers on the many cultural obsessions that have captivated America throughout its history is Nancy Hendricks’s Popular Fads and Crazes through American History.

This two-volume set is organized first by era (the first being pre-1900, then a section for each decade thereafter, up to and including the 2010’s), while the entries within each section are organized alphabetically. Within the section for each decade there are a series of four sidebars that provide further insights into each decade. Themes for each sidebar include “Face of the Decade,” which “spotlights the people or ideal images that best personified the era. ‘Games People Play’ looks at the toys, games, and other diversions that were the most popular at the time. ‘The Only Way to Go’ focuses on transportation, and ‘Everybody’s Talking’ eavesdrops on what fashionable people were chatting about” (xxvi).

Ragtime, baseball cards, drive-in movies, MAD Magazine, pet rocks, and mood rings are just a sampling of the over 200 fads and crazes covered, with each entry spanning one to three pages in length. Each entry concludes with suggested further reading that directs users to an additional one to five sources on each topic. An exhaustive alphabetical index, spanning over 100 pages, enables researchers to find exactly what they are looking for with great specificity and further enhances the usability of this encyclopedia. One feature that is particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of a section titled, “Popular Slang and Catchphrases by Decade.” Essentially a glossary and dictionary of terms and phrases, this section provides readers with a fun and valuable insight into the colloquialisms used by Americans in their everyday language and conversations throughout each decade.

The writing style and technique of author Nancy Hendricks deserves special mention as well. Entries are equal parts informative and fascinating and will quickly and easily grab the attention of its reader. While the entries are fairly short in length, this is very much a positive, as they are best described as succinct and to the point. Her clear and approachable writing gives this encyclopedia more of a conversational tone that will appeal to readers young and old alike.

Thoroughly researched, thoughtfully organized, and written with great skill and technique, Popular Fads and Crazes through American History is a gem that is easy to recommend. This two-volume set would make a welcome addition to any public, school, or academic library.—Matthew Laudicina, Senior Reference Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library


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