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The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America by [Patterson, James T.]
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The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Although the assassinations and other upheavals of 1968 have inspired historians to see it as the pivotal year of the iconic sixties, Patterson argues in favor of 1965. This was the first year of the newly elected Johnson administration and passage of the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicare, and the war on poverty. But it was also the year of military escalation in Vietnam, the Watts riot, and growing cultural upheaval. Patterson begins by detailing the optimism of American culture and politics before the coming tumult, a time when the economy was stable and Americans had not yet begun to struggle with the tensions between a Great Society program and a limited federal budget. Patterson chronicles changes in the political culture as Johnson pushed through a liberal agenda, civil rights blossomed into other rights movements, and music and culture reflected a desire for broad and sweeping change. He ends with an analysis of the following years, when social activists’ demands accelerated and conservatives began to push back, setting the agenda for the decades that followed. --Vanessa Bush


Michael Beschloss “One of America’s greatest historians makes a powerful argument that the most important historical pivot of the revolutionary 1960s was not President Kennedy’s assassination or the tumult of 1968, but the fateful moment when Lyndon Johnson, at his zenith, turned from his Great Society to escalate the war in Vietnam, and when his passage of the Voting Rights Act was quickly followed by riots in Watts.  So evocatively does James Patterson take us back into the vanished world of 1965 that many readers will wish they could travel back in time and somehow change the tragic arc of history.”

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University “Based on rich learning and resonant with thoughtful interpretations, this incisive and lucid book does more than identify a point of inflection. Its fascinating chronicle captures and explains how a configuration of racial and social change, popular culture, robust legislative action, and a fierce and often brutal war as well as unrest at home decisively altered the vectors of American life in ways that simply had not been anticipated just before 1965.” 

Steven M. Gillon, Scholar-in-Residence, The History Channel“Smart, thoughtful, fast-paced, engaging, and insightful—these are just a few of the adjectives that describe James T. Patterson’s masterful new book, The Eve of Destruction. Patterson makes a convincing case that you cannot understand America today without coming to terms with this eventful, and in some cases, tragic, year.” 

David M. Kennedy, Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University“Philip Roth once called the immediate post-World War II decades ‘the greatest moment of collective inebriation in American history.’ James Patterson’s The Eve of Destruction chronicles the origins of the awful reckoning that followed. Focusing on the single, fateful year of 1965, Patterson’s masterful account details the incipient fissures in American society that grew into gaping chasms by the decade’s end. A sobering and essential read about a world we have lost and the troubled birth of our own.”

E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Our Divided Political HeartThe Eve of Destruction is impossible to put down, an exciting but also disturbing look at 1965, the year when what we now think of as ‘the sixties’ really began. For those of us who admire the great liberal achievements of the civil rights movement, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the 89th Congress, James Patterson has written a cautionary tale, showing how and why a conservative reaction that’s still with us began building at liberalism’s zenith. And the fateful, gradual escalation of the Vietnam War haunts this account, as it came to haunt LBJ. Those who lived through 1965 will want to read this book; those who didn’t ought to read it to understand today’s political world.” 

John Dittmer, author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi“While in many respects 1965 was a very good year—the Voting Rights Act, Head Start, and Medicare come quickly to mind—trouble lay ahead. The civil rights coalition was starting to unravel just as the specter of Vietnam loomed large on the horizon. In this illuminating, absorbing, page-turner of a book, James T. Patterson makes the case that ‘After 1965, for better and for worse, the United States would never be the same again.’”

Alan Brinkley, author of John F. Kennedy
“James Patterson, one of the most prolific and thoughtful historians of our generation, has written a brilliant book that shows us how the 1960s became such a destructive period in our recent history. It was not because of the youth revolt, nor even because of the civil rights movement, but because of Lyndon Johnson’s embrace of the Vietnam War.”

Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Reading Patterson’s chronicle, I am all too painfully put back in that terrible year [1965], with all the shock and disenchantment it brought…. The Eve of Destruction should be read… as a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris and, by no means incidentally, the dangers of misreading election returns as mandates.”

Wall Street Journal
“Patterson argues—correctly, I think—that 1965 was one of those “hinge years” when history turns and goes in another, unexpected direction. The history of a single year isn’t easy to write, but Mr. Patterson handles the task well…. All in all, The Eve of Destruction is an illuminating look at a remarkably significant year by a master historian.”

Boston Globe
“[The Eve of Destruction] is no romantic romp of nostalgia. It is a searching look at a year that spawned Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legacy of legislation on education, civil rights, and health and produced a high tide of American liberalism even as bloody confrontations at Selma, bombings in North Vietnam, and a credibility gap in the capital showed cracks in the American edifice…. Meticulously described and deftly analyzed.”

San Francisco Chronicle
“Our yearlong pivot from self-congratulation to national turmoil and near-rupture is the topic of The Eve of Destruction, an engaging chronicle by James T. Patterson, author of the Bancroft Prize-winning Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974…. By focusing on the widening gyre of crisis – Selma, Pleiku, Saigon, Watts – Patterson persuasively argues for the inclusion of 1965 in an elite roster of transformative years. His narrative imparts the dizzying speed of events that left so many Americans wondering what was happening to their country – and whether government really could meet the era’s daunting new challenges.”

“Political liberals may find comfort in the disarray of today’s Republican Party. But it wasn’t so long ago that their own troubles set the stage for the Reagan Era. Historian James T. Patterson skillfully chronicles that period in The Eve of Destruction.”

Irish Times
"[An] elegantly written and finely nuanced work on the US in the 1960s.... Picking up more or less where Robert Caro left off in the latest volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Patterson makes a convincing case that the US was a fundamentally different place at the end of 1965 from what it had been a year earlier.... One of the many strengths of this graceful book... is that the author never overstates his case. In fact, and rather pleasingly, he is always keen to challenge it."

American History Magazine
“Voting rights acts, Medicare and Medicaid, Vietnam, protests, riots—it was a helluva year, and it set in motion the sea change that created today’s relentless confrontational politics.”

Publishers Weekly
“A thoughtful look at a tumultuous period.... Writing in an informative, accessible manner, Patterson creates a strong narrative, his recitation of facts helping to build his case that 1965—rather than 1968 or 1969—marked a political, cultural, and military turning point for America.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Patterson’s sketch of an agonized Johnson perfectly mirrors the nation’s descent from smug self-assurance to puzzlement, peevishness and, finally, anger. A useful time capsule that explains the social fragmentation, political polarization and tumultuous mood swing of a pivotal year in American history.”

Product Details

  • File Size: 2993 KB
  • Print Length: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (November 27, 2012)
  • Publication Date: November 27, 2012
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009RRUTO4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,226 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on November 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Patterson's look back at 1965 primarily focuses on three issues: Vietnam, LBJ's "Great Society" and civil rights. He brings these issues together into his main thesis which is that 1965 was both the peak of the Great Society -- and of our belief in government -- and the year that set the stage for what we think of as the turbulent 60's.

1965 began with about 23,000 "military advisors" in Vietnam and ended with 185,000 combat troops on the ground. Even though President Johnson privately acknowledged that a military victory was unlikely, he escalated the war and did so while being untruthful with the American people. 1965 sowed the seeds for the "credibility gap" that helped disenchant many people with government.

In part, LBJ tried to keep his actions in Vietnam quiet because he was afraid the truth would upset his ambitious and expensive legislative agenda. Viewing Congress today, it's hard to believe the incredible quantity of significant legislation that was passed in 1965: Medicare/Medicaid, education reform (ESEA), immigration reform, the "War on Poverty" and, of course, the Voting Rights Act -- just to name a few!

As a political pro, Johnson knew he had limited time to get his bills passed before he would become "Lame Duck Lyndon", but this lead to hasty action. Legislation was passed quickly, but some of the new initiatives were flawed and the flood of bills created administrative overload and confusion. Johnson over promised and then under delivered, building disappointment and frustration among people who were becoming more and more rights-conscious.

It was in the area of civil rights that Johnson achieved greatness.
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As the year 1965 dawned the American people were feeling pretty good about themselves and the nation at large. They had begun to put the horrific events of November 22, 1963 behind them and looked forward to a peaceful and prosperous year ahead. On the surface at least all appeared to be copacetic. Lyndon Johnson was at the peak of his popularity and declared that the nation that he led had "no irreconcilable differences". It was his intention to continue to advocate for the progressive agenda he so firmly believed in. But in the first few weeks of 1965 a series of unforeseen events would begin to spiral out of control that would eventually cut into to Johnson's popularity and ultimately cost him his Presidency. The noted historian and author James T. Patterson believes that 1965 was a watershed year in American history and has documented all of the major events of that tumultuous year in his sterling new book "The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America". For those of us who lived through it "The Eve of Destruction" serves as a stark reminder of just how transformative 1965 turned out to be.

No one can argue that Lyndon Johnson was a savvy politician who knew how to get things done. His legislative agenda for 1965 was ambitious to say the least. Over the course of the year the largely Democratic Congress would pass a host of important bills including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare and Medicaid, the Higher Education Act while also creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. But despite all of his successes racial divisions were beginning to rear their ugly heads.
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