Given its broad and vibrant subject, it would be quite difficult for a writer of any proficiency to pen a boring book on 1968, and Mark Kurlansky has indeed pulled together an entertaining and enlightening popular history with 1968: The Year That Rocked the World
. With the Vietnam War and Soviet repression providing sparkplugs in the East and West, student movements heated up in Berkeley, Prague, Mexico City, Paris, and dozens of other hotspots. With youth in ascendancy, music, film, and athletics became generational battlegrounds between opposition forces that couldn't be more appalled with one another. Not so fortuitously, the Summer Olympics in Mexico City and a presidential election in the United States conspired to elevate the tension higher as months passed. Kurlansky is skilled at concisely capturing the personalities behind the conflicts, whether they be heartbroken Czech leader Alexander Dubcek as Eastern Bloc troops violently suppress his nation's uprising or respected veteran newsman Walter Cronkite reluctantly editorializing against the war in Vietnam. The author is more than willing to choose heroes (the doomed Robert Kennedy) and villains (victorious presidential candidate Richard Nixon), and clearly sides with the rebels in most cases. In general, Kurlansky is more adept at covering the political front than he is the equally revolutionary arts world, and it's apparent that any chapter in this book could be expanded into a book of its own. One's expectation is that captivated readers will view 1968
as a portal into a deeper exploration of a fascinating time. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
By any measure, it was a remarkable year. Mentioning the Tet offensive, the My Lai massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the Prague Spring and its backlash gives only the merest impression of how eventful and transformative the year must have felt at the time. As Kurlansky (Cod, Salt, etc.) has made the phrase "changed the world" a necessary component of subtitles for books about mundane objects, his choice to focus on a year that so "rocked" the world is appropriate. To read this book is to be transported to a very specific past at once more naive and more mature than today; as Kurlansky puts it, it was a time of "shocking modernism" and "quaint innocence," a combination less contradictory than it first appears. The common genesis of demonstrations occurring in virtually every Western nation was the war in Vietnam. Without shortchanging the roles of race and age, Kurlansky shrewdly emphasizes the rise of television as a near-instantaneous (and less packaged than today) conduit of news as key to the year's unfolding. To his credit, Kurlansky does not overdo Berkeley at the expense of Paris or Warsaw or Mexico City. The gains and costs of the new ethic of mass demonstration are neatly illustrated by the U.S. presidential campaign: the young leftists helped force the effective abdication of President Lyndon Johnson - and were rewarded with "silent majority" spokesman Richard Nixon. 1968 is a thorough and loving (perhaps a bit too loving of the boomer generation) tapestry - or time capsule.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.