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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by Hfirstname.lastname@example.org (October, 2004) Mark Kurlansky. _1968: The Year That Rocked the World_. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. xx + 441 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $26.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-345-45581-9. Reviewed for Hemail@example.com by Jeremi Suri, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Remembering the Emotions and Images of 1968 Mark Kurlansky's new book joins a growing literature that examines the history of the 1960s, and 1968 in particular, from a global perspective. He focuses on the phenomenon of popular rebellion across societies and cultures. In his introduction, Kurlansky explains: "What was unique about 1968 was that people were rebelling over disparate issues and had in common only that desire to rebel, ideas about how to do it, a sense of alienation from the established order, and a profound distaste for authoritarianism in any form" (p. xvii). Kurlansky's book offers a chronological tour through the hot spots of rebellion in 1968 to illustrate the "combustion of rebellious spirits around the world" (p. xvii). He does this with verve and colorful detail. Kurlansky's account of the dissident movement in Poland, for instance, describes the political controversy created by the production of Adam Mickiewicz's emotional play, _Dziady_ (pp. 73-77). The author shows a similar eye for the telling anecdote in his succession of multiple chapters on Czechoslovakia, Cuba, France, West Germany, Mexico, the United States, and numerous other countries. He also weaves in areas that have received little attention in previous global narratives of 1968--most especially, Nigeria and the civil war surrounding its oil-rich region of Biafra. Kurlansky's aim is essentially descriptive: to recapture what he calls the "sense of hope" that motivated young people across the globe to demand immediate far-reaching political and social change (p. 380). For Kurlansky, this idealism lives on in our contemporary setting: "all over the world people know that they are not powerless, that they can take to the streets the way people did in 1968" (p. 380). The author acknowledges the irony that 1968 ended not with revolution, but instead with the emergence of "reactionary" figures like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Antonin Novotny (p. 13). Nonetheless, he persuasively argues that the "activist generation" of 1968 remains emotionally and politically attached to the ideals of progressive social change (p. 379). In this cohort the author includes himself, as well as former American President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. While Kurlansky's descriptive narrative is rich and textured, his analysis is thin and often cliche. He points to four factors that contributed to the global rebellion in 1968: the emotional example of the American civil rights movement, the common assertion of generational alienation, anger at the course of the Vietnam War, and the rapid spread of television media. The first and third factors were clearly crucial, but Kurlansky has nothing new to say about either topic. The second factor is extremely hard to pin down and Kurlansky only gestures in this direction. The spread of television media is the one place where, analytically, Kurlansky offers the reader some new leverage on explaining why events in 1968 took the course they did. A long-time journalist who has covered international affairs, Caribbean politics, and food criticism, Kurlansky has an intuitive understanding of how television changed popular perceptions during the late-1960s. Drawing on the work of Marshall McLuhan, Kurlansky argues that a truly global village came into formation at this time, when vivid images rapidly circulated across societies to create common emotional reference points. Inexpensive videotape and live satellite transmission made it possible by the late-1960s for news reporters to bring events, like the battles in Vietnam and the protest demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention, into the living rooms of television viewers. More significantly, live television reporting of public disturbances allowed protest figures to market their images and challenge official accounts of events. Kurlansky writes that the Democratic Convention in Chicago was, along with the Tet Offensive, "one of the seminal events in the coming of age of television, and the star was not Hubert Humphrey.... This was the Yippie dream, or Abbie Hoffman's dream" (p. 284). Live video images gave new privilege to sensational displays of public defiance. Pictures of angry young men and women circulated as symbols of power and inspirations for similar behavior. Traditional political authorities, operating primarily through an older print media culture, appeared boring and outdated in contrast to the new images of youthful energy. Echoing the early research of Todd Gitlin (whom he does not cite), Kurlansky shows that many protest leaders understood this phenomenon and organized themselves to take advantage of it. They chose moments of maximum television coverage to hold their demonstrations, used extreme displays of emotion to capture attention, and worked to make their events look much larger on the television screen than they were in fact. Kurlansky explains: "Street demonstrations are good television. They do not even need to be large, they need only enough people to fill the frame of a television camera" (p. 102). In addition, social movements that claimed to be non-hierarchical became more identified than ever before with fiery personalities including Daniel Cohn-Bendit of France, Rudi Dutschke of West Germany, and Stokely Carmichael, who cut emotive images on the television screen. Kurlansky's discussion of television in 1968 helps to explain how emotions and images came together to drive social unrest and political reactions. Unfortunately, his insights are never applied to historical evidence in any depth. As far as this reader can tell, the entire book is based on a handful of interviews, a cursory reading of the published literature, and an episodic consultation of the contemporary news media. This creates a number of serious conceptual and empirical problems, beyond the obvious absence of primary sources not pre-digested by other writers. First, Kurlansky depicts the rebellions of 1968 as exclusively left-leaning movements. This is obviously how he remembers the period. Nonetheless, a large literature has shown in recent years that the spirit of rebellion also animated students, workers, and suburban citizens whose politics were self-identified with the right. Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and George Wallace were not figures opposed to change, as Kurlansky assumes. They had radical agendas of their own. They also had powerful analogues across the globe. In some respects, the right-wing rebellions in the 1960s proved more enduring than those on the left. Kurlansky's depiction of 1968 is terribly narrow in its flawed assumption that rebellion was only a creature of one side of the political spectrum. Second, Kurlansky's book is itself taken in by the images that continue to circulate from the period. This is why his neglect of primary sources is particularly troubling. Time and again, Kurlansky depicts the protest movements in various societies as unified, certain, and even self-assured. Tom Hayden, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and others often seem larger than life. They approach the heroic icons of popular memory. Of course there were heroes during this period, but Kurlansky's case for them is not persuasive because it is so shallow and tone-deaf to their all-too-human limitations. Third, Kurlansky's book covers much of the world, but it is really neither global nor international in its argumentation. The author does very little to connect developments in one place with those in another. He relies on the obvious similarity and simultaneity of events. He points to the importance of television as a communication medium, but he does not show how it actually transmitted ideas and images across national borders. Most of his examples for television's influence occur within a single country, usually the United States. More significantly, Kurlansky does not address which resources and institutions made it possible for people to revolt in such large numbers, despite the continued repressive power of established authorities. The reader comes away from this book without an understanding of how power shifted within and across societies to make the unrest of 1968 possible in the first place. Kurlansky's account lacks a basic framework for understanding the emergence of rebellions in an international context. These criticisms point to the limited utility of Kurlansky's book for scholars of the period. The author offers little that will be new to historians, sociologists, political scientists, and well-informed journalists. The book does, however, provide a well-written description of an extraordinary year that captures the swirling emotions and circulating images that changed the world. Kurlansky gives us a window into how these emotions and images continue to linger in our memories and our contemporary debates. Ultimately, Kurlansky's book is less about 1968 than how we remember that tumultuous time. Notes . See Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, _The Medium Is the Message: An Inventory of Effects_ (Corte Madera: Gingko Press, 2001). . See Todd Gitlin, _The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left_ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980). . For a sampling of the large and growing literature on the New Right in America and other countries during the 1960s, see Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, _America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s_ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Lisa McGirr, _Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); and Jeremi Suri, _Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente_ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). Purchasing through these links helps support H-Net: http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=28081&cgi=product&isbn=0345455819 http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345455819/hnetreview-20?dev-t=mason-wrapper%26camp=2025%26link_code=xm2 http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345455819/hnetreview-21 http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41034484&bfpid=0345455819&bfmtype=book Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. 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