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1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation.

1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation. By Charles Kaiser. New York: Grove Press, 2018. Notes. Photographs. Index. Pg. xxix, 306. $18.00 ISBN:978-0-8021-2803-4

This book is more than just "1968;" it is about "the sixties" and the incredible impact that the decade continues to have on the present. The philosophical start of the 1960s is most often begun with John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 or, alternatively, with his assassination in 1963. The decade's "end" is often tied to either Richard Nixon's 1974 resignation or perhaps the stark reality of Altamont in December 1969, when the flower-power dream was shattered. In between was a protracted period when America was being torn apart at the seams by the Vietnam War and the struggle for social justice in this country. On a lighter note this was the decade of the British Invasion, led by the Beatles, and the heyday of the counterculture. If one, however, had to highlight a singular year in that decade of extraordinary change, it would likely be 1968. Hence, this book. It was the year of the watershed Tet Offensive in Vietnam that changed the course of the war and anticipated America's exit from Vietnam. It was also when Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were murdered, casting a dark shadow over the country. It was also a watershed year because of its pivotal presidential election leading to significant changes in America's foreign policy and domestic direction. So much happened in that year that its impact, fifty years later, is still being felt. It should not be forgotten that cultural change took place in the arts, music, and, not least of all, in film making. This was the year of cult classics and reality challenging movies like "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Rosemary's Baby," "Planet of the Apes," and "The Night of the Living Dead."

Charles Kaiser gives it his all to capture the era's spirit and significance through his recalling of the drawn-out political process, especially in light of the acrimony between Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. Kaiser revisits the confusion leading up to the chaos at the Democratic Convention and Hubert Humphrey's nomination, and to the incredible role that Martin Luther King had played as a moral compass. In turn, Kaiser visits the social and cultural backdrop of the '60s; the rejection of conventional wisdom leading up to 1968's presidential election; the significance of Tet on the American psyche; the rise of radical activism; and, intriguingly, the increasing power of media and its images to affect American opinion.

I understood, as one who was a product of the '60s, from celebration of the counterculture, to social activism, and veteran of ground combat in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1968, what Kaiser was recapitulating. However, his telling of personal experiences in that era, as if they were representative of a universal experience for everyone, is somewhat less than the reality of that time. I have known many Americans who were only marginally touched by the war, the political turmoil, and the cultural revolution. So, one's perspective on the 1960s, when all is said and done, depends on where one was standing at the time. This book's strength, then, is that it levels the playing field by informing the reader about aspects of the 1960s that he or she may have missed the first time around. Likewise, it provides excellent insight for those whose only knowledge of that era comes through scholarship and documentaries.

John Cirafici, Milford DE
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Author:Cirafici, John
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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