While conventional accounts focus on the sixties as the era of pivotal change that swept the nation, Fred Kaplan argues that it was 1959 that ushered in the wave of tremendous cultural, political, and scientific shifts that would play out in the decades that followed.Read more...
While conventional accounts focus on the sixties as the era of pivotal change that swept the nation, Fred Kaplan argues that it was 1959 that ushered in the wave of tremendous cultural, political, and scientific shifts that would play out in the decades that followed. Pop culture exploded in upheaval with the rise of artists like Jasper Johns, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Miles Davis. Court rulings unshackled previously banned books. Political power broadened with the onset of Civil Rights laws and protests. The sexual and feminist revolutions took their first steps with the birth control pill. America entered the war in Vietnam, and a new style in superpower diplomacy took hold. The invention of the microchip and the Space Race put a new twist on the frontier myth.
- Vividly chronicles 1959 as a vital, overlooked year that set the world as we know it in motion, spearheading immense political, scientific, and cultural change
- Strong critical acclaim: ""Energetic and engaging"" (Washington Post); ""Immensely enjoyable . . . a first-rate book"" (New Yorker); ""Lively and filled with often funny anecdotes"" (Publishers Weekly)
- Draws fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today
Drawing fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today, Kaplan offers a smart, cogent, and deeply researched take on a vital, overlooked period in American history.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 43.
- Review Date: 2009-05-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Slate columnist Kaplan takes a contrarian view to the common wisdom that the '60s were the source of the cultural shift from pre-WWII traditions to the individualistic, question-authority world of today. In Kaplan's view, the watershed year in this transformation is 1959. He delves into that year's cultural and political scene, citing Miles Davis and his revolutionary album Kind of Blue; William Burroughs and his equally revolutionary novel, Naked Lunch; and the opening of Frank Lloyd Wright's radically designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City as examples of fundamental breaks with past conventions. Kaplan's case is cemented by three 1959 events that he convincingly argues were catalysts for paradigm changes in relationships between men and women (the pharmaceutical company Searle sought FDA approval for the birth control pill), in how citizens view their government (the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam) and in communications and information transfer (the microchip was introduced to the world). Kaplan doesn't quite convince that 1959 was “the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life,” but his writing is lively and filled with often funny anecdotes as he examines some key elements in the transition from the mid to late 20th century. 16 b&w photos. (July)
Looking back at 1959
While it’s easy enough to show that the events of any given year were pivotal to one cause or another, Fred Kaplan makes a persuasive argument in 1959: The Year Everything Changed
that the highlighted year was a real political, scientific and artistic watershed. It was the year Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued its withering report on racial discrimination in America, the microchip and the birth control pill were introduced, and the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam.
In addition, relations eased between the U.S. and Russia, thanks to high-level diplomatic exchanges; scientists probed deeper into space; courts overturned literary censorship laws; and jazz musicians, painters and comedians debuted exciting new forms of expression. (Having been a 24-year-old and reasonably culturally aware graduate student in 1959, this reviewer thinks Kaplan should have also mentioned the then rising tide of politically tinged folk music.)
Fortunately, the author does a great deal more than merely enumerate this torrent of transitional wonders. He also fills in each of their backstories and demonstrates subtle connections between seemingly discrete occurrences. Naturally enough, he ends the book with a chapter on Sen. John F. Kennedy laying the groundwork for what would turn out to be his successful run for the presidency the following year.
As Kaplan correctly concludes, 1959 set the stage for the massive “upheavals of the subsequent decades.” America would quickly end its love affair with Castro. The Cuban missile crisis would soon sweep away the threads of harmony between the two reigning superpowers. Civil rights would move from the courts into the streets of Little Rock, Montgomery, Birmingham and beyond. The pill would enable Americans to make love without fear even as they made war with increasing fearfulness in Vietnam.
“Above all,” says Kaplan, “there was suddenly a palpable sense [in 1959]—brought on by jet travel, space exploration, and the shift from nuclear domination to a competitive arms race—that the world was shrinking and that America was part of that world, locked into it, no longer merely affecting events but also affected by them.
Fifty years later, the country is still coming to terms with those realities.