Excerpt from 1968 by Mark Kurlansky, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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1968 by Mark Kurlansky
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2003, 441 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2005, 464 pages

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On January 4, thirty-four-year-old playwright LeRoi Jones, an outspoken Black Power advocate, was sentenced to two and a half to three years in the New Jersey State Penitentiary and fined $1,000 for illegal possession of two revolvers during the Newark riots the previous summer. In explaining why he had imposed the maximum sentence, Essex County judge Leon W. Kapp said that he suspected Jones was "a participant in formulating a plot" to burn Newark on the night he was arrested. Decades later, known as Amiri Baraka, Jones became the poet laureate of New Jersey.

In Vietnam, the war U.S. officials were forever telling correspondents was about to end still seemed far from over.

When the French had left in 1954, Vietnam was divided into a North Vietnam ruled by Ho Chi Minh, who had largely controlled the region anyway, and a South Vietnam left in the hands of anti-communist factions. By 1961 the Northern communists had gained control of half the territory of South Vietnam through the Viet Cong, which met with little resistance from the Southern population. That year the North began sending troops of their regular army south along what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail to complete the takeover. The U.S. responded with increased involvement though it had always been involved-in 1954 the U.S. had been financing an estimated four-fifths of the cost of the French war effort. In 1964 with North Vietnam's position steadily strengthening, Johnson had used an alleged naval attack in the Gulf of Tonkin as the pretext for open warfare. From that point on, the Americans expanded their military presence each year.

In 1967, 9,353 Americans were killed in Vietnam, more than doubling the total number of Americans previously killed, which now stood at 15,997, with another 99,742 Americans wounded. Newspapers ran weekly hometown casualty reports. And the war was also taking a toll on the economy, at a cost of an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion a month. During the summer, President Johnson had asked for a large tax increase to stanch the growing debt. The Great Society, the massive social spending program that Johnson had begun as a memorial to his fallen predecessor, was dying from lack of funds. A book published at the beginning of 1968 called The Great Society Reader: The Failure of American Liberalism contended that the Great Society and liberalism itself were dying.

From the USA hardcover edition. Excerpted from 1968 by Mark Kurlansky Copyright © 2003 by Mark Kurlansky. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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