America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

Synopsis

In America Divided, Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin provide the definitive history of the 1960s, in a book that tells a compelling tale filled with fresh and persuasive insights. Ranging from the 1950s right up to the debacle of Watergate, Isserman (a noted historian of the Left) and Kazin (a leading specialist in populist movements) not only recount the public and private actions of the era's many powerful political figures, but also shed light on the social, cultural, and grassroots political movements of the decade. Indeed, readers will find a seamless narrative that integrates such events as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Rolling Thunder with the rise of Motown and Bob Dylan, and that blends the impact of Betty Friedan, Martin Luther King, and George Wallace with the role played by organizations ranging from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to the Campus Crusade for Christ. The authors' broad ranging approach offers us the most sophisticated understanding to date of the interaction between key developments of the decade, such as the Vietnam War, the rise and fall of the Great Society, and the conservative revival. And they break new ground in their careful attention to every aspect of the political and cultural spectrum, depicting the 1960s as a decade of right-wing resurgence as much as radical triumph, of Protestant apocalyptic revivalism as much as Roman Catholic liberalism and rising alternative religions. Never before have all sides of the many political, social, and cultural conflicts been so well defined, discussed, and analyzed--all in a swiftly moving narrative. With America Divided, the struggles of the Sixties--and their legacy--are finally clear.

Excerpt

"History," a great scholar once declared, "is what the present wants to know about the past." We have written this book to make sense of a period that continues to stir both hot debate and poignant reminiscence in the United States and around the world. The meaning of the '60s depends, ultimately, upon which aspects of that time seem most significant to the retrospective observer. We have chosen to tell a story about the intertwined conflicts-- over ideology and race, gender and war, popular culture and faith--that transformed the U.S. in irrevocable ways. The narrative does not remain within the borders of a single decade; like most historians, we view "the '60s" as defined by movements and issues that arose soon after the end of World War 11 and were only partially resolved by the time Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency.

Our own friendship is a creation of the long 1960s and its continuing aftermath. We met in 1970 in Portland, Oregon--two young radicals of college age who cared a great deal more about changing history than studying it. For a while, we lived in the same "revolutionary youth collective" and wrote for the same underground paper--signing only our first names to articles as an emblem of informality. We then left to attend graduate school on different coasts and found teaching jobs at different schools. But a passion for understanding and telling the story of the '60s brought us together as writers. In the late '80s, we coauthored an article on the failure and success of the New Left and began to consider writing a study of the period as a whole.

That shared past animates our story but does not determine how we've told it. While still clinging to the vision of a democratic Left, we certainly do not endorse all that radicals like ourselves were doing in the 1960s. And, unlike some earlier scholars and memoirists, we no longer view the narrative of the Left--old, new, or liberal--as the pivot of the 1960s, around which other events inevitably revolve. What occurred during those years was too important and too provocative to be reduced to the rise and fall of a politi-

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