1956 is a study of revolution in action and in thinking. The parallels from continent to continent are nearly undeniable, and one can postulate from Simon’s lively account that there was, if not a direct connection between all these happenings, certainly a notable ricochet effect.”
Fast-moving and vivid. Hall is a fluent and unobtrusive narrator.
A marvellous social history of that year.
Hall succeeds admirably in presenting 1956 as a year that belongs in the same revolutionary tradition as 1848 and 1968.
Hall (Rethinking the American Anti-war Movement), professor of American history at the University of Leeds, U.K., captures the collective drama of the year 1956, which saw massive expressions of popular discontent worldwide and demonstrated the stubbornness and violent proclivities of the “guardians of the ‘old order.’” The year was a major turning point in “the global struggle against white supremacy” in the U.S. and South Africa, despite stiff hostility and reactionary terror. Postwar anticolonial nationalism lingered in much of North Africa, fueling decolonization movements and further eroding the old European empires, though not without bloodshed; the Suez crisis exemplified the declining power of the European imperial powers. In the U.S.S.R., Khrushchev’s repudiation of Stalin and moves toward liberalization elicited surprise and uncertainty, and “fueled a series of rebellions across the ‘people’s democracies’ of Eastern Europe,” most visibly in Poland and Hungary, where Soviets countered the spread of “revolutionary fervor” with a brutal crackdown. Hall also covers the Castro brothers’ failed initial operation to overthrow the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, and American cultural and generational rebellion in the form of rock ’n’ roll, dancing, and poetry. Switching between these multiple developments, Hall provides a dramatic and immersive narrative of a tumultuous year of oppression, revolt, and reaction in a decade often considered bland and docile. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Sept.)
Simon Hall's 1956 offers a vivid, powerful, and panoramic narrative of one of the most emblematic years of the twentieth century. Closely researched, passionately argued, and splendidly readable from first to last. I loved it.”
The 1950s often are thought of as a complacent decade when the world took a deep, calming breath after the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s. Hall (American history, Univ. of Leeds; Peace and Freedom) examines the pivotal but somewhat forgotten year of 1956—and finds worldwide upheaval. The United States, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Cyprus, the USSR, Poland, Hungary, Egypt, Britain, France, Israel, South Africa, and Cuba were embroiled in separate but interconnected conflicts about segregation, colonialism, apartheid, nationalism, and occupation. Although world leaders are major players, Hall convincingly shows that the tumultuous events of 1956 were driven by everyday people willing to put themselves on the front lines, demanding freedom and equality. All of this and more occurred against the soundtrack of Elvis Presley, the band Bill Haley and His Comets, the birth of rock and roll, and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. VERDICT Accessible, extensively researched, and well documented, this book will fascinate readers with an interest in post-World War II history, and baby boomers curious about world affairs in the years of their youth.—Laurie Unger Skinner, Coll. of Lake Cty., Waukegan, IL
A year of dramatic changes around the world.Taking an ambitious, panoramic view of a single year, Hall (American History/Univ. of Leeds; Rethinking the American Anti-War Movement, 2011, etc.) examines major events in postwar Europe, America, Africa, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East. Although the choice of 1956 is necessarily arbitrary, the author makes a strong case for its significance in capturing "the contradictions of the decade" that played out as liberation movements in some areas and repression in others. In Poland and Hungary, populations rose up against communist oppression; in the U.S., racial violence erupted over efforts to desegregate buses and integrate the University of Alabama. Escorted by police officers and a college dean, the first black student was pelted with "rocks, eggs, mud balls and curses," leaving her "overcome with terror." Also during this time, major colonial powers faced the ends of their empires: France tried to suppress uprisings in Algeria, while Britain cracked down on Cyprus but granted independence to Ghana. Flexing their muscles, France and Britain signed an agreement with Israel to launch a war to overthrow Egyptian president Gamel Abdal Nasser, undermining Eisenhower's efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Suez Canal crisis. A surprising speech by Nikita Khrushchev, denouncing Stalin, softened the rhetoric of the Cold War. Hall's focus is almost exclusively political: he devotes only one chapter to cultural eruptions such as rock 'n' roll, which was condemned as "cannibalistic and tribalistic" and stoked public fears about "errant sexual behavior." Elvis Presley appeared on TV, evoking "a storm" of criticism; the city of Santa Cruz banned rock 'n' roll at public gatherings. Hall sees the music as "one manifestation of a wider cultural and generational revolt" that included poet Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and playwright John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. Contemporary newspaper reports give the author's month-by-month narrative a vivid, you-are-there quality. An impressive history of a year's political tensions, necessarily limited in focus but still sweeping and in-depth.