50 Years Ago

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50 Years Ago

New Books about America in 1968

We are now 50 years out from the tumultuous events of 1968. DC Public Library is focusing on the ways in which events of that year resulted in the city and country we know today. Authors and publishers are doing the same, publishing a plethora of books about what happened in America during that time. While it's a year that has already had a lot of historical gaze fixed upon it, many of the new books are bringing fresh perspectives to that time. This list contains just a few of the exciting new titles that have come out recently about some of the important things that happened in 1968. They skew toward the political, but some have social and cultural history components as well.

The Heavens Might Crack by Jason Sokol
This short book considers not just the events of April 4 but also the diverse reactions people in America and across the world had to the news of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. The author looks at both the short term and longer term impacts of Dr. King's death, arguing that it is much more complex and diverse than people usually realize. Pulling from primary sources, Sokol also encourages the modern reader to remember how radical King was and how strong a reaction he produced in people, both good and bad. Well-written and approachable, this book is a good summer read despite the sad and difficult subject.

Resurrection City, 1968 photographs and text by Jill Freedman with essays by John Edwin Mason and Aaron Bryant
This is
technically not a new books as it was first published in 1970 under the title Old News: Resurrection City. This new edition has Freedman's original photographs and captions but is supplemented by introductory essays by two experts in photography and African-American history. Resurrection City was the protest encampment on the National Mall that Dr. King and others were in the midst of organizing when he was assassinated. Part of the Poor People's Campaign, the people who lived on the mall for six weeks are documented by Freedman. A fascinating look at a little known part of D.C. and American history.

Huế 1968: a Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
This book takes place mostly in Vietnam; however, it is deeply about American history. It focuses on the North Vietnamese and the American parts of the battle over Hue, a major city and cultural center. A significant, deadly conflict with high rates of casualties on both sides and among civilians, it shifted the American discussion on the war toward how to
extricate ourselves from the country. Putting the fighting in that context and explaining its importance to U.S. policy and strategy is what makes this book for more than just war history lovers. While much of it is devoted to explaining the fighting and its military significance, the fact that the fight over this city changed America's sense of its victory prospects makes this lengthy book worth reading.

Playing with Fire: the 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics by Lawrence O'Donnell
Written by the political reporter and host of 
MSNBC's "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell, this book picks apart the unprecedented presidential election of 1968. Rocked by two assassinations and a multitude of surprise candidates, O'Donnell takes the reader through the contested primary season and into the general election. He argues that Nixon's tactics foreshadowed much of the illegal actions to come. A surprisingly engaging work of political history, this book is written by someone who came of age during this time, which gives interesting perspective to the work.

Most of 14th Street Is Gone: The Washington, DC Riots of 1968 by J. Samuel Walker
This brand-new book about the riots in D.C., following the assassination of Dr. King, looks in depth at the context and causes for the violence that broke out. Walker looks to not just tell the story of what happened, which he does well, but also to explain the sense of frustration and fear that was present in that time in D.C. In talking about the riot itself, he attempts to recount the historical events from a variety of perspectives: rioters, city officials, police, soldiers, business owners and many more. This adds a richness to the book that draws the reader in and helps make sense of an important event in our nation's history.