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

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Charles Kaiser's 1968 in America is widely recognized as one of the best historical accounts of the 1960s. This book devotes equal attention to the personal and the political, speaking with authority about such diverse figures as Bob Dylan, Eugene McCarthy, Janis Joplin and Lyndon Johnson.


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Charles Kaiser's 1968 in America is widely recognized as one of the best historical accounts of the 1960s. This book devotes equal attention to the personal and the political, speaking with authority about such diverse figures as Bob Dylan, Eugene McCarthy, Janis Joplin and Lyndon Johnson.

30 review for 1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture & the Shaping of a Generation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    As the title indicates, this is a book about America rather than a book about 1968 as a whole. It's impossible to make that a firm line and Kaiser does pay a bit of attention to Paris and Prague, but the strength of the book is its nuanced treatment of Democratic Party politics, especially the ever-changing cross-currents of the Eugene McCarthy campaign. The sections on LBJ, Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy are very good, but it's the portrait of McCarthy's conflicted insurgency that sunk in most deep As the title indicates, this is a book about America rather than a book about 1968 as a whole. It's impossible to make that a firm line and Kaiser does pay a bit of attention to Paris and Prague, but the strength of the book is its nuanced treatment of Democratic Party politics, especially the ever-changing cross-currents of the Eugene McCarthy campaign. The sections on LBJ, Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy are very good, but it's the portrait of McCarthy's conflicted insurgency that sunk in most deeply. I've read a lot about the Sixties, especially over the last couple of years, and I'm familiar with the standard anecdotes, so it was a pleasure to regularly encounter new details that illuminate the central figures and events. There's much less of that when Kaiser moves beyond electoral politics. He glides a bit when he writes about music, placing white rock--Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones especially--at the center. He doesn't ignore black music, but its clear that he's listening to soul from a bit of a distance. He's a pretty good synthetic writer when he's looking at Civil Rights and the political Right. But there's been a lot of new research since he was writing in the 1980s, so the book has just a bit of a dated feel. Like 1968, 1068 in America runs out of gas somewhere around the Chicago Convention, gliding very rapidly over the last four months. To some extent that's understandable, but it does mean that the treatment of Nixon's election--in retrospect maybe the event with the most lasting impact on American history--is relatively superficial. It may also reflect Kaiser's choice to place a very strong emphasis on Eugene McCarthy. Again, that's understandable since so much came to a head around his campaign, but it does create a slightly distorted sense of a year that was much more complicated. Finally, and this is't criticism so much as reflection, it was sad to read Kaiser's assessment of 1968's last impact, which he frames in terms of the anti-war movement's success in keeping America out of Vietnam-style military adventures. Guess we didn't internalize that as deeply as one might have hoped.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt Shaw

    This is a gripping synthesis and analysis of the main stages in the USA in 1968, at the microcosmic as well as the big picture. Personal accounts, anecdotes, and fresh characterization bring the players (Johnson, McCarthy, King, etc) and the crises (Tet, the assassinations of King and Kennedy) into a very clear and immediate resolve. Boldly mixing in the music, literature, and tides of the time makes a fuller picture than just pop history or political journalism. This is a must for anyone intere This is a gripping synthesis and analysis of the main stages in the USA in 1968, at the microcosmic as well as the big picture. Personal accounts, anecdotes, and fresh characterization bring the players (Johnson, McCarthy, King, etc) and the crises (Tet, the assassinations of King and Kennedy) into a very clear and immediate resolve. Boldly mixing in the music, literature, and tides of the time makes a fuller picture than just pop history or political journalism. This is a must for anyone interested in the course of the US in the 60s.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Blaine DeSantis

    OK book. Could have been a much more complete survey of the year, instead it focused on certain Democratic aspects of the year. Found it very one-sided. When the author actually got down to hard facts it was good, but there just was something missing for me. He seemed to forget that 1968 was the year of the Hard Hat Democrats who bolted the party and were instrumental in the Nixon victory. But these are the authors memories or reflections and he is entitled to that.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    In his book that I just completed called, “1968 in America” , author Charles Kaiser attempts to tackle what was probably the most tumultuous year of the second half of the twentieth century in the United States. Sure, other years had more than their share of crises and tragedy, but 1968 was a year when you could see the seems busting out of American Society as we knew it. The Tet Offensive, which was really a “win” for the U.S. troops that fought it out, began the year as a big public relations In his book that I just completed called, “1968 in America” , author Charles Kaiser attempts to tackle what was probably the most tumultuous year of the second half of the twentieth century in the United States. Sure, other years had more than their share of crises and tragedy, but 1968 was a year when you could see the seems busting out of American Society as we knew it. The Tet Offensive, which was really a “win” for the U.S. troops that fought it out, began the year as a big public relations disaster that deeply eroded the peoples support of the dragging war,. Still only five years after watching JFK getting murdered on live T.V. on the streets of Dallas. Two rising leaders of America, (Martin and Bobby), are gunned down within 31 days of each other. I was nine years old at the time and I remember the adults around me saying that “the United States was a very sick nation” The riots in the cities across the country began, and the mass exodus to the suburbs really began after that. On and on it went, a year full of bad news. I still remember , even as a kid saying on December 31st. “I am so glad that 1968 is over”. I hope that we never have another year like this. It has been fifty years now, since I said that, and we still have not had a year as bad as that one since. I feel that Kaiser does a fairly good job in 300 pages at catching a glimpse of what it felt like to live through that. He worked on Gene McCarthy’s campaign, so I think that he spends too much time in the first half of the book, revisiting that. Some strong areas that the author really hits on are: “Will Johnson run?”, The creeping involvement in Viet Nam, and how this was concealed from the people, The Student takeover at Columbia University. Bobby Kennedy’s conflicted personality and actions, and also, here we find a wonderful in depth understanding of how the music scene was shaping the young society.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    The author is a journalist, not an historian, and this is an impressionistic, engaged account, not a dispassionately objective history. Having been involved in much of what he writes about, I enjoyed it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tim Petersik

    what a year! this book conveys the mood pretty well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nayomi Vazquez

    It should just be title 1968: Chaos in the Democratic Party

  8. 4 out of 5

    George Sink

    This was a great read about a period of time I only really knew from history books and recollections. The author writes as more of a journalist than a historian, but having come of age in the late 1960s he expresses the passions sweeping through the nation during that decade quite well. He includes chapters on Martin Luther King's work, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the antiwar movement, the music that truly helped "shape a generation", and the changing culture in America dur This was a great read about a period of time I only really knew from history books and recollections. The author writes as more of a journalist than a historian, but having come of age in the late 1960s he expresses the passions sweeping through the nation during that decade quite well. He includes chapters on Martin Luther King's work, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the antiwar movement, the music that truly helped "shape a generation", and the changing culture in America during that time. The politics surrounding that turbulent year are almost treated as the main thread of the story, shown through the lens of the main candidates' presidential campaigns. The long and winding road of 1968 in America was varied, nuanced, and far more chaotic than I thought. In many ways it served as a catalyst and set the stage for the struggles we as a nation find ourselves still walking through today.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Clary

    This isn’t the comprehensive history of that tumultuous year I was hoping for. Rather, it’s a personal look at the key figures important to the author. One of the characters who runs through the course of the book is Eugene McCarthy, the reluctant candidate who ran in the New Hampshire primary and nearly defeated LBJ, hastening his decision not to run for re-election. McCarthy drew fervent support from anti-war college students, but his diffidence and stubbornness made life hard for his supporte This isn’t the comprehensive history of that tumultuous year I was hoping for. Rather, it’s a personal look at the key figures important to the author. One of the characters who runs through the course of the book is Eugene McCarthy, the reluctant candidate who ran in the New Hampshire primary and nearly defeated LBJ, hastening his decision not to run for re-election. McCarthy drew fervent support from anti-war college students, but his diffidence and stubbornness made life hard for his supporters. The author touches on music, but in a scattershot way. I expected it to be more of a theme given the title. Overall, this is a decent overview of the main events of the year, but the book doesn’t dig much deeper than that in most areas.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Scott Presnall

    A really good and disturbing read. Like the author, I turned 13 in 1968. Unlike the author, I grew up in the protective cocoon that is East Texas, where the immense pine trees filter not just the wind but also new ideas and controversy. This retelling of that pivotal year’s events drove home the belief my mom carried to her grave — that Bobby Kennedy was our nation’s best hope for dealing with our country’s problems at home and abroad.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wilson

    Good information and well-written. Kaiser spent too much time on the Democratic primary for my liking. Would have preferred a deeper look on the MLK and RFK assassinations and the Chicago riots. Still worthwhile.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Great book, I was very young away this time in history and it was not yet taught in history classes. Learned a lot of things that I had heard growing up this time with context.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    It was a little light on the music of 68 but more than made up for it in the coverage of McCarthy v Kennedy primary races, Viet Nam War and the "Radical" student protests. A solid 5 out of 5.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Norman Coe

    Interesting account of 1968 one of the most turbulent years in America. This book deals with many things but mainly politics. If you like history this is a well researched and well written book. I highly recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    I wanted to read this because Charles Kaiser participated in a documentary on 1968 that my professor showed in class. He has this line that has always stuck with me, I'm paraphrasing, but it's something like, "the beginning of 1968 especially the political movements contained a promise, and that promise was denied and never realized through the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy." 1968 represents broken hope in a way that's truly heartbreaking for anyone interested in culture I wanted to read this because Charles Kaiser participated in a documentary on 1968 that my professor showed in class. He has this line that has always stuck with me, I'm paraphrasing, but it's something like, "the beginning of 1968 especially the political movements contained a promise, and that promise was denied and never realized through the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy." 1968 represents broken hope in a way that's truly heartbreaking for anyone interested in culture, change, civil rights, civic engagement, public policy or American history. This is a a dense book. But it's a fascinating one with many parallels to current situations (reading about the Columbia University protests as London burned was just one example). Everything that happened in 1968 is sort of insane, within a five day period in April - a sitting President told the nation he would not seek another term in office, largely as a result of student lead peace movement and the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy (try to imagine George Bush doing that in 2003); Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; and riots broke out in urban centers all across the country so massive the President was afraid they would run out of National Guard troops to quell the violence. And that was FIVE days. There were 300 other days full of protests, Vietnam, and music. As Kaiser points out it was the closest thing to a national musical culture we have ever had revolving around The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Also it's an endlessly frustrating tale. If Bobby Kennedy had been more willing to run on the peace ticket initially and they hadn't gone with McCarthy, or alternatively if he had simply waited to run another time, his assassination might not have helped take the wind out of McCarthy's sails during the DNC. As someone in the book put it, "Gene McCarthy was handed a winning lottery ticket, and he just never cashed it." That's the story of 1968. He ends this book talking about how at least there has not been another Vietnam type war, and that is our legacy. And as money keeps being spent and soldiers continue to die in Afghanistan, that statement is no longer true. I wonder when the history is written of the these years which will stand as a bigger embarrassment of misuse of political power. If you can get your hands on this History channel documentary of 1968, I highly recommend it: http://www.history.com/images/media/i...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Interesting book, though it's actually only the politics that Kaiser is anything close to truly understanding. The chapter on music, told from the perspective of a 37-year-old (published in 1988) writing about what he loved at 17, is ridiculously simplified and banal. Not much on the counterculture, aside from a fairly indepth look at the Columbia University student unrest, the chaos almost seems too controlled in the narrative, and the shaping of a generation gets discussed in the last page or Interesting book, though it's actually only the politics that Kaiser is anything close to truly understanding. The chapter on music, told from the perspective of a 37-year-old (published in 1988) writing about what he loved at 17, is ridiculously simplified and banal. Not much on the counterculture, aside from a fairly indepth look at the Columbia University student unrest, the chaos almost seems too controlled in the narrative, and the shaping of a generation gets discussed in the last page or two while only accepted as truth the rest of the way. But, the politics of the Democratic party that year are particularly fascinating, and Kaiser gets plenty of details that I hadn't known before - I was 9 while all this was occurring. I remember King and Kennedy being killed, I remember people making fun of Humphrey and I remember Wallace and Nixon being out there, but I honestly don't remember Eugene McCarthy's name crossing my path that whole year. I also don't think I realized just how close the November election ended up, with less than a percentage separating Nixon and Humphrey in the popular vote.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I was unable to get much 1960s history in high school or college. The teacher always seemed to run out of time or feel as though that decade were "too close" to talk about. Maybe true, maybe not. I still have always felt embarassingly ignorant about this period of time. "1968 in America" is an engrossing way to pick up some of that history. His primary focus is on the actions of Johnson, McCarthy and Kennedy. I was a little disappointed to discover that his thesis, which promised an account that I was unable to get much 1960s history in high school or college. The teacher always seemed to run out of time or feel as though that decade were "too close" to talk about. Maybe true, maybe not. I still have always felt embarassingly ignorant about this period of time. "1968 in America" is an engrossing way to pick up some of that history. His primary focus is on the actions of Johnson, McCarthy and Kennedy. I was a little disappointed to discover that his thesis, which promised an account that would be inextricably linked to rock 'n roll, only gave Dylan, the Beatles, etc. one rather random and disconnected chapter. Still, Kaiser is an engaging writer. It's impossible not to get caught up in the idealism and tragedy that collided over and over again that year.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Petersen

    My second foray into the year I remember, sort of. Kaiser concentrates more heavily on the war and politics, which admittedly were prime factors in making 1968 such a historic year. He does so quite brilliantly, and reading this book was a vivid journey into the recent past. But how poignantly one of his last lines echoes from 1988, the year he published it, to now: "There have been no more Vietnams since 1968."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    A race through 1968 with a journalist from that era. Kaiser focuses primarily on Eugene McCarthy's campaign for the Democratic nomination for president (Kaiser is a big fan of McCarthy's Kids) but it also touches on Nixon, Humphrey, both Kennedys, MLK and other big names of that year. He also ties in music as much as possible, and is obviously a big fan of that era's music. A good primer on 1968 in America--and easy to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    This is a very good book. I was 16 in 1968. Many of the inner details of McCarthey's campaign were not known to me but I was watching the US elections for sure. I realize now that my knowledge (and therefore opinions) was clouded by my age/maturity at the time and access to information. Anyone who had a connection to the 60s at all should enjoy reading this book. I will add more comment later ...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laseghi2

    I thought this book was a very comprehensive look @ a very dynamic year in our history. The author discusses changes in foreign policy, pop culture, & racial relations. Very well researched & well written.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vickie Backus

    If you remember 1968 you weren't there. I was 10 in 1968 and had fragmentary memories of the events of that year. This book made clear what a remarkable year it was.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    This is a very dense book, so it's kind of a slow read, but if you're at all interested in the politics, culture, or music of that era, it's a great book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ksz

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Powers

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tim Moore

  28. 4 out of 5

    Donnie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ron Jacobs

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