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1968: The Year That Rocked the World Hardcover – December 30, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345455819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345455819
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #751,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mark Kurlansky's entertaining book amply justifies his thesis that 1968 was a watershed year, in which peoples around the world fundamentally reassessed their visions of themselves and of their governments.

Kurlansky weaves a gripping tale from start to finish: The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic convention in Chicago, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Mexico City Olympics, and so much more.

Kurlansky is at his best in two successive chapters near the book's end. The first of these, on the Democratic national convention, could hardly have misfired, so colorful is the material. But Kurlansky's treatment of the Czech response to the Soviet invasion is even more magnificent. This impressive chapter required Kurlansky to dig much deeper to tease out events that took place behind closed doors in repressive environments.

Kurlansky admits in his introduction that objectivity is nearly impossible when writing about such divisive, impassioned events. Unfortunately, Kurlansky's gift for narrative is accompanied by a shocking lack of perspective on the events of 1968, even at a distance of nearly forty years. For example:

Throughout the book, Kurlansky treats rebellious movements as part of an international piece, glossing over the fundamental difference between resisting the tanks of the Soviet Union, and taking over a building at Columbia University. Such gloss trivializes the bravery of those standing up to totalitarianism at the same time that it exalts actions in the west that sometimes veered towards recreation.

Kurlansky sometimes visibly strains to position the New Left as equal opportunity rejecters of capitalism and communism, sometimes with absurd results.
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Format: Hardcover
This wonderful new account of the year 1968 gives one a whirlwind tour through the upheavals of that seminal year. From Cuba to China to Czechslovakia and Poland this boo does it all. A wide survey of everything from the Chicago 7 to the role of TV and disappearance of mini-skirts. Kurlansky is the master of story telling. He weaves in topics like the Jewish role in the Polish protests of 68', the Biafran war in Nigeria and the shooting of protestors in Mexico. Every subject is covered thoroughly so that you know the characters and feel the times. This is simply a very readable interesting account of a year that changed the world and still affects how we think about 20th century history.
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Format: Hardcover
Every college professor will tell you that history is more than a study of dates and events. Only by looking at the long term and greater societal trends can true understanding be gained. Mark Kurlansky proves this belief dramatically wrong in his newest, and best work to date, 1968. The research alone must have taken years, to say nothing of the narrative flow and care in crafting the book. What happened to make this one year so important? How about Vietnam in full swing complete with the Tet Offensive, the Nigerian oil war, Czechoslovakia moving toward democracy only to be invaded by the Soviets, Muhammad Ali being convicted of draft evasion, student demonstrations of every kind from Mexico to France, Martin Luther King being assassinated, Cuba perceived as the most exciting nation in the world, Robert Kennedy looking like the next president only to be killed, the cartoon-like atmosphere of the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago including seventeen minutes of televised police brutality, the Black Power salutes of Olympic medal winners, and the orbiting of the moon by Apollo 8? And most amazingly, Kurlansky ties it all together; interconnecting the many separate and diverse movements and moments and showing how they affected one another. He also retains the human touch with numerous quotations and interviews with the people who were there. This is history, pure and untainted, as close as you are likely to get without experiencing it. It is often said that those who lived through historical events are unaware of their importance until afterward, but 1968 shows how so many participants were very aware that "the whole world is watching" and they acted accordingly. This book is a must read for those who were there, and even more so for those who weren't. One more good book, and you can shelve Kurlansky right next to Bradley or Ambrose.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having heard much of the separate events occured in 1968, it was interesting to see a well written attempt to unify the events into one coherent theme. The author describes in detail the background to each event and the actions taken by the main leaders of such movements -- a unifying theme seems to be that the movements were almost self driven, with figureheads at the top with no true leadership. Also part of the unifying theme was that these movements were led by students, who for the first time were aware of other student movements around the world and seem to not want to be left behind.

The stories focus on the communist bloc (Poland and Czechoslovakia), where there was strong repression of the student movement. The problem, for example, in Poland, was that the students were mostly the children of the Communist Party leaders, so the clashes put on opposite sides different generations of the same people. Such seemed to be the case in the Czech case as well.

The movements in France were also astounding in their magnitude, with leaders who did not lead much, but getting to a complete paralysis of the country and the downfall of many in the government. Movements in the US, especially at Berkeley and Columbia, has strong effects on the American psyche, as the war in Vietnam went on and civil rights movements were heating up and taking a turn towards violence (away from Martin Luther King and into the Black Panthers). The killing of Bobby Kennedy was also a significant event to shape the election year in the US.

I highly recommend this book to those interested in history -- it puts many events in perspective. The Prague Spring, for example, is much more well understood knowing the Communist party dynamics at the time and the international student movement raging on in the west. One should have a good time reading it, while we hope another such year occurs in our lifetimes.
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