1968 IN AMERICA: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation by Charles Kaiser

1968 IN AMERICA: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation

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KIRKUS REVIEW

1968: King, Kennedy, Chicago, Columbia, Tet, SNCC, Dylan, LSD. It's all here--again--but in Kaiser's hands it becomes remarkably lackluster. Kaiser, part of a generation that seems to have collectively discovered the lost years of youth, may be the first member of that generation to forget the real energy of 1968. This is plainly not his intent: an earnest chronicler, he grants 1968 singular status in the post-Civil War era. Still, although a former journalist, he paints the year with all the flourish of a high-school textbook. Paragraph-long catalogs of the hip (rock groups, fashion trends, drugs) are substitutes for concrete analysis; adjectives flock together where insight is missing (rock is ""steel-edged, sentimental, raucous, melodious, sophisticated and infantile""); information is garnered only from Gallup polls and existing accounts. All this amounts to a history written from too clinical a perspective, full of figures and dates, but lacking any sense of the spirit of the times. Kaiser, 18 years old in 1968, a Columbia freshman and McCarthy campaign volunteer, was a privileged witness to the year's events--yet his personal stake in the year is buried under an avalanche of lists. He fulfills none of the promise of his subtitle; we learn little of the ""shaping of a generation."" Instead, we learn too much about the infighting between Johnson, Kennedy, and McCarthy on the campaign trail and not enough about how it all fits together. A landmark year, yes. But landmark reading this is not. Stick to the more animated accounts of the times, such as Geoffrey O'Brien's Dream Time (p. 600) or the Ungers' Turning Point (p. 1231).

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson