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4.0 out of 5 stars The Hinge that Turned the Sixties, November 20, 2012
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This review is from: The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America (Hardcover)
Lyndon Johnson was elected in a landslide in 1964 and was selected by Time as "Man of the Year." GDP growth was an astounding 25% as unemployment dropped to 4% and inflation hovered at 1%. During the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on 12/18, the President reflected the expansive mood in the US when he said, "These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem." The country was united, prosperous and at peace.

Yet by September, American troops were fighting an offensive, undeclared war in Vietnam. LBJ had launched Operation Rolling Thunder on March 2 which would ultimately drop more explosive tonnage on Vietnam than had been unleashed on all of Europe in World War II. The largest peace demonstration in US history had been held in April. South American countries were protesting American military intervention in the Dominican Republic. The press was angered at the administration's evasiveness. Blacks felt that civil rights legislation was moving too slowly while conservatives were angered by Great Society initiatives.

In September, singer Barry Maguire released "Eve of Destruction" which reached the number one spot on 9/25 and stayed in the top 20 for 8 weeks. The song struck a raw nerve as Maguire asked, "Can't you feel the fear that I'm feelin' today?" Time Magazine observed that youth's rallying cry had changed from "I want to hold your hand" to "I want to change the world." Todd Gitlin suggested that the song "seemed to certify that a mass movement of American young was upon us."

Author James Patterson has written a convincing description of a year that seemed to transform America from an Age of Camelot to Days of Rage. He argues that while the iconic events of the sixties occurred at the end of the decade, their basis was established in 1965. He quotes journalist Nicholas Lemann who observed in 1991 that "the 1960s turned as if on a hinge" in the summer of 65.

Patterson traces the impact of the war in Vietnam, Great Society legislation, the civil rights movement and changes in popular culture in charting this remarkable transition from an era of good feelings to the eve of destruction. He remains focused on the giant and ultimately tragic figure of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Eve of Destruction is a concise, compelling read. The book moves quickly between facts, avoiding value-laden arguments while demonstrating how quickly the mood in the country shifted as LBJ's political capital eroded. Patterson meets the challenge of distinguishing between what was known at the time and what we have come to believe in retrospect, as with the development of youth as a specific generation with a shared consciousness. The author is aware that the events he describes have implications for today's political scene but wisely leaves most of these conclusions for the reader to draw. The resulting history manages to elucidate without trying to influence unduly.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to both history buffs and to persons with interest in current affairs.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 25, 2012 9:14:57 AM PST
An Old-Timer says:
The title of the book seems to suggest that what followed 1965 was worth a lot less than what came before. It would be hard to persuade black people, women, young people of draft age, the poor, the sick, the elderly, that they should have been happy with their lot, and the freedoms they were about to experience were bad for them.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2012 11:44:03 AM PST
Great comment. I think the book title, quoting the title of a song from 1965, may be misleading. The "Destruction" in the song refers more to the anxiety about possible nuclear war: "If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away. There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave." The lyrics from Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction are mostly pro reform as they complain about the slow pace of change ("Handful of senators don't pass legislation and marches alone can't bring integration"), apathy ("You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace") and hypocrisy ("Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace.")

The book does not defend the pre-1965 world or argue that it was a better place. The author does, however, imply that creative destruction is a necessary part of fundamental societal change and that this process began in 1965 in the US, coming to fruition in the latter part of that decade.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2015 2:41:55 PM PDT
colette says:
I'm an old-timer myself and I would have to say life was way better before 1965. Black people had stable families and neighborhoods, women did not have to work in the job market and could take good care of their families, young people had fun and didn't spend their time worshiping celebrities, the poor were taken care of as well as the sick and elderly. Movies were better, as well as music and art and literature. People still believed in God - no drugs and degradation - no pornography and birth control and wanton sex and abortion. How could anyone say people are better off today?? The only freedom you have is how much money you have in today's world. People still have no choice but accept their lot, as far as I can see.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2015 6:55:50 PM PDT
An Old-Timer says:
Since a simple life seems to equal a better life, maybe we could roll the clock back another hundred years or more - bring back slavery, fear of God, church on Sunday, intolerance of any other beliefs, etc.
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