Author(s): Fred Kaplan
Acclaimed national security columnist - and noted cultural critic - Fred Kaplan looks past the 1960s to the year that really changed America Conventional historical wisdom focuses on the sixties as the era of pivotal change that swept the nation, yet, as Fred Kaplan argues, it was 1959 that ushered in the wave of tremendous cultural, political, and scientific shifts that would play out in the turbulent 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 launched the Computer Age, and the Space Race put a new twist on the frontier myth. Drawing fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today, exactly 50 years later, Kaplan offers a smart, cogent, and deeply researched new take on a vital, overlooked period in American history.
"Immensely enjoyable reading... a first-rate book... You'd be amazed how much stuff was going on in the unpromising year 1959, and how it all comes under the heading of breaking the chains of the old and embracing the new... [Kaplan]'s a sort of wonky hipster, a type that subsumes and coalesces almost all of the characters -- physicists, poets, jazz musicians, astronomers -- who set America on fire at the end of the Eisenhower decade, and who people 1959, Kaplan's new book, which puts all of his passions between hard covers." (The New Yorker) "Kaplan's premise is certainly a good one. He's arguing that the real fulcrum of the 20th century and beyond is not -- as many argue -- the 1960s, but the unsung '50s. Those who love the AMC series "Mad Men," set just after the epochal year, will find much to love in Kaplan's book." (Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2009) "Kaplan makes an intriguing case that 1959 was an authentic annus mirabellis." (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2009) "Where he really shines is in his ability to capture longer-term trends in the snapshot of the year... In Kaplan's careful interpretation of the year, 1959--even aside from its headline scientific and cultural milestones--was a simmering cauldron of innovation and change, with superficial conformity and false shallows hiding the depths beneath." (DailyKos) "This sprawling, holistic joy of a book explores, expands and provokes reassessment of an entire era--not just a year--in a way that is deeply satisfying and enlightening." (dailykos.com, June 7, 2009) 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) (Publishers Weekly, May 4, 2009)
Timeline. 1 Breaking the Chains. 2 A Visitor from the East. 3 The Philosopher of Hip. 4 Generations Howling. 5 The Cosmonaut of Inner Space. 6 The End of Obscenity. 7 Sickniks. 8 Thinking about the Unthinkable. 9 The Race for Space. 10 Toppling the Tyranny of Numbers. 11 The Assault on the Chord. 12 Revolutionary Euphoria. 13 Breaking the Logjam, Hitting the Wall. 14 The Frontier's Dark Side. 15 The New Language of Diplomacy. 16 Sparking the Powder Keg. 17 Civilizations in the Stars. 18 A Great Upward Swoop of Movement. 19 Blurring Art and Life. 20 Seeing the Invisible. 21 The Off-Hollywood Movie. 22 The Shape of Jazz to Come. 23 Dancing in the Streets. 24 Andromeda Freed from Her Chains. 25 New Frontiers. Acknowledgments. Notes. Credits. Index.