A compelling history of 1968 and beyond.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that epochal year, and numerous books, magazine features, newspaper tributes, and conferences and symposia continue to commemorate it. One of the better of these treatments is this one by Wolfson Prize winner Vinen (History/King’s Coll. London; National Service: Conscription in Britain 1945-1963, 2014, etc.), a fine book on the various strands of protest and opposition that emerged in what he calls the “Long 1968,” which effectively involves the longer-term trends of the 1960s and 1970s, with 1968 as both the apex and the fulcrum. The author does not focus on just one location; this is not about 1968 in the United States or France. Nor does he purport to tell the story of a “global 1968,” one of the more popular recent approaches of historians and scholars. Instead, Vinen splits the difference, looking comparatively at the Long 1968 in the U.S., the U.K., France, and West Germany, with brief detours elsewhere, emphasizing transnational trends as well as the particularities of how protest movements emerged and the barriers they faced. The author devotes chapters to specific overarching themes: how 1968 manifested in universities and challenged prevailing sexual and family norms, the role of and impact on workers and labor movements, and how violence by actors on all sides of the myriad conflicts affected society. Vinen is a sharp scholar, and his geographical and thematic approaches are useful for those with some sense of the larger stories of 1968. His work is not, however, suitable as an introduction to the many events and trends of the year. This is less a criticism than a simple reminder that scholars build on other work and that not all works of history, however good, provide suitable introductions to complex phenomena.
Though the book is not for readers unfamiliar with the historical terrain, Vinen provides a well-written, deeply considered work on a year that seems increasingly immediate in both its impact and implications.