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1959: The Year Everything Changedby Fred Kaplan
Synopses & Reviews
It was the year of the microchip, the birth-control pill, the space race, and the computer revolution; the rise of Pop art, free jazz, "sick comics," the New Journalism, and indie films; the emergence of Castro, Malcolm X, and personal superpower diplomacy; the beginnings of Motown, Happenings, and the Generation Gap-all bursting against the backdrop of the Cold War, the fallout-shelter craze, and the first American casualties of the war in Vietnam.
It was a year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life, when humanity stepped into the cosmos and commandeered the conception of human life, when the world shrank but the knowledge needed to thrive in it expanded exponentially, when outsiders became insiders, when categories were blurred and taboos trampled, when we crossed into a "new frontier" that offered the twin prospects of infinite possibilities and instant annihilation-a frontier that we continue to explore exactly fifty years later, at an eerily similar turning point.
In 1959: The Year Everything Changed, acclaimed Slate columnist Fred Kaplan vividly chronicles this vital, overlooked year that set the world as we know it in motion. Drawing on original research, including untapped archives and interviews with major figures of the time, Kaplan pieces together the vast, untold story of a civilization in flux-and paints vivid portraits of the men and women whose creative energies, ideas, and inventions paved the way for the new era. They include:
Norman Mailer, musing on the hipster and the H-bomb while fusing journalism and literature in wildly new, influential ways; Lenny Bruce, remaking stand-up comedy by loosening the language and skewering politics and religion; Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, shattering the structures of jazz; John Cassavetes, making a new kind of movie, with improvised dialogue, shot in the city streets, outside the Hollywood system; Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, insinuating black urban music into mainstream pop culture; Barney Rosset, the owner of Grove Press, suing the government's censors and toppling obscenity laws; Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, advancing new and militant paths to civil rights and racial politics; Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Allan Kaprow, blurring the boundaries between art and life; Jack Kilby, a self-described "tinkerer," inventing the microchip, which triggers the digital age; Margaret Sanger, a radical activist in her eighties, spurring renegade scientists to invent a "magic pill" that lets women control their reproductive processes and unleashes the sexual and feminist revolutions; and John F. Kennedy, the coalescing figure of the era, campaigning for president as a young outsider, keen to grapple with the "unknown opportunities and peril" of the coming "new frontier"—just as Barack Obama, an even unlikelier outsider, confronts the eve of a new decade in our own turbulent time.
An acclaimed national security columnist and noted cultural critic draws fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today, exactly 50 years later, and offers a smart, cogent, and deeply researched new take on a vital, overlooked period in American history.
Acclaimed national security columnist and noted cultural critic Fred Kaplan looks past the 1960s to the year that really changed America
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.
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.
Advance Praise for Fred Kaplan's 1959: The Year Everything Changed
"An engrossing story about not just where the '60s came from but the birth of the future. Kaplan does a masterful job of weaving together the strands - in politics, society, culture, and science — that have brought us to the postmodern age."
—Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
"It turns out there's only one degree of separation between Miles Davis, the brilliant jazz innovator, and Herman Kahn, the Strangelovian nuclear-war theorist—and his name is Fred Kaplan. No one else could throw this fabulous cocktail party of a popular history, teeming with defiant hipsters, visionary inventors, artistic rulebreakers, and troublemakers of all kinds."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, Senior Editor, the New Yorker
"1959 is a riveting account of the year our modern age began. Everything did change, and you'll be amazed by how much was going on, and how much it has affected the way you live your life now."
—Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row, Dreamland, and Paradise Alley
"Take a ride on the New Frontier with Fred Kaplan, your insightful (and hip) guide to the space race, thermonuclear war, the civil rights movement, the 'sick comics,' the Beats, and the beginnings of the Vietnam War, all to a soundtrack by Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Miles, and Motown."
—Donald Fagen, cofounder, Steely Dan
About the Author
Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column in Slate, contributes frequently to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, and blogs about jazz for Stereophile. A Pulitzer Prize winning former Boston Globe reporter who covered the Pentagon and post-Soviet Moscow, he has also written for the New Yorker, New York, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and other publications. He is the author of Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, also available from Wiley. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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