Bookmarks Issue: 

The Year That Rocked the World

A-1968In 1968, a convergence of events altered the course of world history. Martin Luther King was assassinated; so was Robert Kennedy. The year marked the Tet Offensive, student uprisings, Black power protests at the Mexico City Olympics, and riots at the Democratic National Convention. And, at the forefront, satellite television reported, and shaped, the way a global public interpreted local events. In short, 1968 represented "the birth of our postmodern media-driven world," during which, in one key year, a "spontaneous combustion of rebellious spirits" gave the world renewed hope for change.
Ballantine. 464 pages. $26.95.

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Kurlansky has] created something memorable, essential, and in its own way wondrous: spare fact paired with wild bias. ... Perhaps the book's veiled theme is the momentous and personal effect the year had, and still has, on all those who lived through it." Andria Spencer

SF Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"If you're looking for something to complain about in 1968, you might want to note that there is nothing whatsoever in the book about the environmental movement.... 1968 is not only a useful guide to the not-too- distant past but also a rich perspective on how we got to where we are." Walter Truett Anderson

Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"He makes no effort to conceal his sympathies: He turned 20 in 1968 and protested against the Vietnam War. ... In 1968, Kurlansky does justice to a remarkable year." James F. Sweeney

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kurlansky's biggest weakness is a tendency to celebrate his own 'generation' (he was born in 1948) rather more than his own narrative justifies. ... his fast-paced tale of global upheaval is the best single volume available on that tormented time." Luther Spoehr

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]n attempting to include every significant world event, he inevitably sacrifices many of that year's salient elements, its soundtrack, for example." Kunio Francis Tanabe

Critical Summary

Kurlansky is master of small ceremonies. Author of Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, he examines another deceptively small thing in 1968: a year. He draws together disparate people and events in a global portrait of revolutionary change. Kurlansky is the first to admit that his youthful, anti-Vietnam bent is anything but objective; after all, he came of age during the turbulent '60s. Yet, rather than romanticize his (and, it seems, many sympathetic critics') former causes, he offers an accessible, generally unbiased account of the year. He provides scant explanation of the origins of this near-global revolution; nor does he link the events of 1968 to the present day. Still, it's the best biography of a year we have. And those who lived through it will, as they read 1968, relive an intensely personal journey.