Friday, October 10, 2008

1968: The Year that Rocked the World / Mark Kurlansky -- NY: Ballantine Books, 2004.

As a review of the year 1968, Kurlansky's book 1968 is somewhat weak, but as a review of the student protest movement of that year, it is quite good. Kurlansky focuses mostly on the student movement in the US, particularly Berkeley and Columbia Universities, but he makes a laudable effort to include accounts of Paris, Prague, Poland, and Mexico City. He also provides an interesting account of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Admittedly, this is quite a list of events to cover in a single book, but I was left wanting something more than accounts of resistance. Kurlansky recognizes the significant social and economic changes that were underway during 1968, but gives them short attention. Missing is a sense of the general ambiance of the times within which the student movement took place. Furthermore, his treatment of the student movements concentrates attention on a handful of people who came to be picked out as "leaders" by the national media. Despite the insistance of the actors themselves that the movement was driven by spontaneous, decentralized motives, Kurlansky provides biographies of a handful of people as though this would provide insight into the events.

Despite these complaints, 1968 was an engaging read. Much has been written and told about the student movement of the 1960s to make Kurlansky's work unsurprising, but it does conatain enough untold stories to make it quite rewarding, and the story is told well enough that I wanted to follow up reading this with other more complete accounts of specific events.

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