Wyatt's interdisciplinary research allows him to highlight the process of understanding the past even as he explains how this particular year has become so entrenched in Americans' cultural memory. This engaging vision of 1968 should appeal to readers in history, English, American studies, and cultural studies. Highly recommended.
When America Turned: Reckoning with 1968by David Wyatt
Much has been written about the seismic shifts in American culture and politics during the 1960s. Yet for all the analysis of that turbulent era, its legacy remains unclear. In this elegantly written book, David Wyatt offers a fresh perspective on the decade by focusing on the pivotal year of 1968. He takes as his point of departure the testimony delivered by
Much has been written about the seismic shifts in American culture and politics during the 1960s. Yet for all the analysis of that turbulent era, its legacy remains unclear. In this elegantly written book, David Wyatt offers a fresh perspective on the decade by focusing on the pivotal year of 1968. He takes as his point of departure the testimony delivered by returning veteran John Kerry before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1971, as he imagined a time in the future when the word "Vietnam" would mean "the place where America finally turned." But turning from what, to what -- and for better or for worse?
Wyatt explores these questions as he retraces the decisive moments of 1968 -- the Tet Offensive, the McCarthy campaign, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the student revolt at Columbia, the "police riot" at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Lyndon Johnson's capitulation, and Richard Nixon's ascendency to power. Seeking to recover the emotions surrounding these events as well as analyze their significance, Wyatt draws on the insights of what Michael Herr has called "straight" and "secret" histories. The first category consists of work by professional historians, traditional journalists, public figures, and political operatives, while the second includes the writings of novelists, poets, New Journalists, and memoirists.
The aim of this parallel approach is to uncover two kinds of truth: a "scholarly truth" grounded in the documented past and an "imaginative truth" that occupies the more ambiguous realm of meaning. Only by reckoning with both, Wyatt believes, can Americans come to understand the true legacy of the 1960s.
University of Massachusetts Press
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What People are saying about this
One of the things I like best about the book is that the author refuses to find villains in the story. He writes with great sympathy for nearly all the players in the drama.
Four and a half decades after 1968, its major events are well known but not fully understood. For David Wyatt it was a year when a few individuals made or acted on decisions that brought about a 'turning' in American public life. He recreates the circumstances of those decisions, drawing on his personal memories as a college student, extensive research, and his mature meditations on that annus mirabilis. In this way he retrieves a past that is 'usable' in the sense that it may help us negotiate the turnings of our own era.
With empathy and insight, Wyatt orchestrates a richly varied chorus of voices evoking not only what happened in the fraught year of 1968 but what it felt like and what it meant. His book is as much about the literature of witness and recollection as about the tumultuous events themselves.
An insightful and beautifully written effort to address the significance of 1968 as the moment when America 'turned' away from the myth of its own innocence. Wyatt has a solid grasp of some of the most significant memoirs and novels to emerge from the 1960s, and he nicely combines this creative writing with historical scholarship to illuminate the tensions and contradictions of that era as well as the efforts to come to terms with them.
Meet the Author
David Wyatt is professor of English at the University of Maryland. His most recent book is Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature.
To view David Wyatt speaking about his book, please see http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/multimedia/tv/reruns/watch/181443.
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