Summary and book reviews of 1968 by Mark Kurlansky

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

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Book Summary

Brings to teeming life the cultural and political history of the pivotal year of 1968, when television's influence on global events first became apparent, and spontaneous uprisings occurred simultaneously around the world. 

To some, 1968 was the year of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet it was also the year of the Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy assassinations; the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Prague Spring; the antiwar movement and the Tet Offensive; Black Power; the generation gap; avant-garde theater; the upsurge of the women's movement; and the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.

In this monumental book, Mark Kurlansky brings to teeming life the cultural and political history of that pivotal year, when television's influence on global events first became apparent, and spontaneous uprisings occurred simultaneously around the world. Encompassing the diverse realms of youth and music, politics and war, economics and the media, 1968 shows how twelve volatile months transformed who we were as a people–and led us to where we are today.

THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT

 

The things of the eye are done.
On the illuminated black dial,
green ciphers of a new moon-
One, two, three, four, five, six!
I breathe and cannot sleep.
Then morning comes,
saying, "This was night."
-Robert Lowell, "Myopia: a Night," from For the Union Dead, 1964



CHAPTER 1
THE WEEK IT BEGAN

The year 1968 began the way any well-ordered year should - on a Monday morning. It was a leap year. February would have an extra day. The headline on the front page of The New York Times read, world bids adieu to a violent year; city gets snowfall.

In Vietnam, 1968 had a quiet start. Pope Paul VI had declared January 1 a day of peace. For his day of peace, the Pope had persuaded the South Vietnamese and their American allies to give a twelve-hour extension to their twenty-four-hour truce. The People's Liberation Armed Forces in South Vietnam, a pro-North Vietnamese guerrilla force in the South popularly known as the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did the explosive worldwide social movements of 1968 make that year unique?
  2. What was the international impact of the civil rights movement on the events of 1968?
  3. What progress or setbacks have there been in the status of women since that time?
  4. How did television influence that year's events?
  5. How does the mass media of today differ from 1968's?
  6. What was the global significance of the Prague Spring?
  7. What events of 1968 would not occur today?
  8. How is it that such a tragic year arouses nostalgia in so many people?
  9. Was the world a better place before 1968, or do you feel there have been changes for the better since that year?
  10. What lessons might we learn from the events of 1968?
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post's Book World

Many of us are still haunted by the events of 1968. Just two weeks ago in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean recalled the '60s: "When I was 21 years old, it was the end of the civil rights era, and America had paid an enormous price. Martin Luther King had been killed. Bobby Kennedy was dead.... But it was also a time of great hope. Medicare had passed. Head Start had passed. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. We felt like we were all in it together." Mark Kurlansky echoes Dean when he writes: "The thrilling thing about the year 1968 was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world. . .. And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it."

Bookmarks Magazine

Kurlansky is the first to admit that his youthful, anti-Vietnam bent is anything but objective; after all, he came of age during the turbulent '60s. Yet, rather than romanticize his (and, it seems, many sympathetic critics') former causes, he offers an accessible, generally unbiased account of the year. He provides scant explanation of the origins of this near-global revolution; nor does he link the events of 1968 to the present day. Still, it's the best biography of a year we have. And those who lived through it will, as they read 1968, relive an intensely personal journey.

San Francisco Chronicle

Highly readable... a rich perspective... Kurlansky is a writer of remarkable talents and interests.

Chicago Tribune

Splendid... evocative... No one before Kurlansky has managed to evoke so rich a set of experiences in so many different places - and to keep the story humming.

The Seattle Times

Kurlansky writes with a historian's diligence.... [He] traces skillfully the astounding streams of revolt converging in that historic year.... A colorful, highly evocative report on the awfulness and the idealism of the time.

Booklist - Keir Graff

.... what can be gained from yet another Boomer report on the 1960s? Surprisingly, quite a bit. In examining the momentous events of 1968, he refolds the map so the U.S. is no longer the center of student protest.....This is very fine--and surprisingly timely-- although its scope and complexity may keep it from finding the broad popularity of the author's earlier works, where we delighted in the surprising histories of ordinary things.

Kirkus Reviews

A masterful chronicle of a year when the world was living dangerously and everybody's hair was afire.....Says so much so well about a year that still steals your breath away, even with so many of its hopes dashed.

Library Journal

Strongly recommended for most public and academic libraries.

Publishers Weekly

1968 is a thorough and loving (perhaps a bit too loving of the boomer generation) tapestry--or time capsule.

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