1959: The Year Everything Changed

By FRED KAPLAN

Those of us who weren’t yet born in 1959 might think of that year as being pretty much the same as any other. And for all I know, those of you who lived through it do, too. But in his new book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Fred Kaplan, who writes Slate‘s “War Stories” column, contends that it was “the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life, when humanity stepped into the cosmos and also commandeered the conception of human life, when the world shrank but the knowledge needed to thrive in it expanded exponentially?when everything was changing and everyone knew it — when the world as we now know it began to take form.” Kaplan lays out the evidence to support his claim in 25 highly readable chapters, covering everything from Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and the Beats to the space race and the “missile gap” to the civil rights struggle and the advent of the birth control pill and the microchip. And that’s just to name a few areas that Kaplan points out as having had watershed moments in 1959. “The truly pivotal moments of history are those whose legacies endure,” he writes. “And?it is the events of 1959 that continue to resonate in our own time.” After all, as Kaplan indicates, without the microchip, introduced by Texas Instruments on March 24, 1959, where would the Internet, cell phones, and laptops come in? And without the Pill, for which FDA approval was sought on July 23, 1959, how different would our family structures — and women’s lives — look today? Chilling thought. Let’s hear it for 1959.