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1968 by Mark Kurlansky Kirkus Star

1968

The Year that Rocked the World

By Mark Kurlansky

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-345-45581-9
Publisher: Ballantine

A masterful chronicle of a year when the world was living dangerously and everybody’s hair was afire.

Doing what he does best, Kurlansky (Salt, 2002, etc.) brings a descriptive glow to his subject, holding it up to the light and turning it in his hands. Kurlansky is not so much concerned with exegesis as narrative scope, though he’s also happy to wade among the knots, thorns, and bafflements of 1968. It was a terrible, Dickensian year for the human toll it took in Biafra and Vietnam, across Europe, and in the US, but it was thrilling too, “a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that are wrong with the world.” The author, who was 20 that year and very much a child of those times, makes real the passion that pervaded the air: the widespread antiestablishment, antiauthoritarian movements; the student—and, in some cases, worker—uprisings in Paris, Berlin, Prague, Mexico City, New York, and elsewhere; Tom Stoppard, Peter Brooks, and Julian Beck shaking up the theater; Jacek Kurón, Adam Michnik, and others acting as reluctant heroes in Poland; Tommie Smith and Lee Evans clenching their fists from the Olympic platform; SNCC eclipsing SCLC, and the rise of Black Power; television networks broadcasting undistilled and unpackaged news; feminism rising again. Instead of wanting to Be Like Mike, young people in 1968 aspired to act “como Che!” Assassinations, invasions, napalmings, and near-genocides made a grim backdrop for the year’s millenarian dreams. Kurlansky is handy with the quick character sketch, but celebrities don’t overwhelm the writing; he’s more interested in context and events, circumstances and consequences, a good example being how he threads the US presidential race and its many permutations through the course of the narrative.

Says so much so well about a year that still steals your breath away, even with so many of its hopes dashed. (Illustrations throughout)