1959: The Year Everything Changed

1959: The Year Everything Changed

by Fred M. Kaplan
     
 

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A Washington Post Best Book of 2009

"Fascinating . . . a cabinet of wonders. . . . Those who love the AMC series Mad Men, set just after the epochal year, will find much to love in Kaplan's book."
Los Angeles Times

"Clever . . . Fun . . . Kaplan makes an intriguing case that 1959 was an authentic annus mirabellis."
The Wall

Overview

A Washington Post Best Book of 2009

"Fascinating . . . a cabinet of wonders. . . . Those who love the AMC series Mad Men, set just after the epochal year, will find much to love in Kaplan's book."
Los Angeles Times

"Clever . . . Fun . . . Kaplan makes an intriguing case that 1959 was an authentic annus mirabellis."
The Wall Street Journal

"Enormously engaging. . . . Kaplan is wonderful at chronicling what changed and how."
Washington Post

"Immensely enjoyable reading. . . . A first-rate book."
George Packer, The New Yorker

"This sprawling, holistic joy of a book explores, expands, and provokes reassessment of an entire era—not just a year—in a way that is deeply satisfying and enlightening. Social, political, and historical commentary doesn't get much better than this."
Daily Kos

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. Drawing on original research, untapped archives, and interviews with major figures of the time, Fred Kaplan pieces together the vast, untold story of a civilization in flux—and paints vivid portraits of the men and women whose inventions, ideas, and energy paved the way for the world we know today.

Editorial Reviews

Charles Kaiser
In the pantheon of pivotal years…1959 hasn't previously rated a mention. But Fred Kaplan's energetic and engaging new book makes a convincing case for its importance…Anyone old enough to remember the '50s will be astonished to discover how many revolutionary seeds were sewn in the final year of that decade. Others who read 1959 will get a compelling and concise lesson in American social, cultural and political history.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Slate columnist Kaplan takes a contrarian view to the common wisdom that the '60s were the source of the cultural shift from pre-WWII traditions to the individualistic, question-authority world of today. In Kaplan's view, the watershed year in this transformation is 1959. He delves into that year's cultural and political scene, citing Miles Davis and his revolutionary album Kind of Blue; William Burroughs and his equally revolutionary novel, Naked Lunch; and the opening of Frank Lloyd Wright's radically designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City as examples of fundamental breaks with past conventions. Kaplan's case is cemented by three 1959 events that he convincingly argues were catalysts for paradigm changes in relationships between men and women (the pharmaceutical company Searle sought FDA approval for the birth control pill), in how citizens view their government (the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam) and in communications and information transfer (the microchip was introduced to the world). Kaplan doesn't quite convince that 1959 was "the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life," but his writing is lively and filled with often funny anecdotes as he examines some key elements in the transition from the mid to late 20th century. 16 b&w photos. (July)

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From the Publisher

* ""Immensely enjoyable reading... a first-rate book… You'd be amazed how much stuff was going on in the unpromising year 1959, and how it all comes under the heading of breaking the chains of the old and embracing the new... [Kaplan]'s a sort of wonky hipster, a type that subsumes and coalesces almost all of the characters -- physicists, poets, jazz musicians, astronomers -- who set America on fire at the end of the Eisenhower decade, and who people 1959, Kaplan's new book, which puts all of his passions between hard covers."" (The New Yorker)

""Kaplan's premise is certainly a good one. He's arguing that the real fulcrum of the 20th century and beyond is not -- as many argue -- the 1960s, but the unsung '50s. Those who love the AMC series ""Mad Men,"" set just after the epochal year, will find much to love in Kaplan's book."" (Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2009)

“Kaplan makes an intriguing case that 1959 was an authentic annus mirabellis.” (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2009)

""Where he really shines is in his ability to capture longer-term trends in the snapshot of the year.... In Kaplan's careful interpretation of the year, 1959--even aside from its headline scientific and cultural milestones--was a simmering cauldron of innovation and change, with superficial conformity and false shallows hiding the depths beneath."" (DailyKos)

“This sprawling, holistic joy of a book explores, expands and provokes reassessment of an entire era--not just a year--in a way that is deeply satisfying and enlightening.” (dailykos.com, June 7, 2009)

Slate columnist Kaplan takes a contrarian view to the common wisdom that the '60s were the source of the cultural shift from pre-WWII traditions to the individualistic, question-authority world of today. In Kaplan's view, the watershed year in this transformation is 1959. He delves into that year's cultural and political scene, citing Miles Davis and his revolutionary album Kind of Blue; William Burroughs and his equally revolutionary novel, Naked Lunch; and the opening of Frank Lloyd Wright's radically designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City as examples of fundamental breaks with past conventions. Kaplan's case is cemented by three 1959 events that he convincingly argues were catalysts for paradigm changes in relationships between men and women (the pharmaceutical company Searle sought FDA approval for the birth control pill), in how citizens view their government (the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam) and in communications and information transfer (the microchip was introduced to the world). Kaplan doesn't quite convince that 1959 was “the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life,” but his writing is lively and filled with often funny anecdotes as he examines some key elements in the transition from the mid to late 20th century. 16 b&w photos. (July) (Publishers Weekly, May 4, 2009)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780470730270
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
05/27/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
361,730
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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

Meet the Author

Fred Kaplan is a columnist for Slate and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, New York magazine, and other publications. A former reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner for the Boston Globe, he is also the author of Daydream Believers and coauthor of The Wizards of Armageddon. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.

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