I'm not sure if that was Kurlansky's intent. Several times, he pointedly said the word of the year was "motherfucker." A word that could be used to describe both authority of the time and some of the protest movement. But not all of them. There are two chapters, back to back, one describing the end of Prague Spring and the brutal crackdown by the Soviets, the other describing 1968 Democratic National Convention and the brutal crackdown by the Chicago police. You can't help but the compare and contrast the two events, and my takeaway was that the Czechs were actually protesting against something - a pitiless, authoritarian, remorseless and mechanical Soviet government, protesting for something - reform, freedom, democracy, socialism with a human face. When it comes to the protesters at the 1968 DNC, I couldn't figure out what exactly they were protesting for or against; it seemed to protest for the sake of protest, without standing for much. Anti-war, yes - but reform... but I don't know, I just never "got it." I don't know if that was Kurlansky's fault or not, but I don't think so. I think rather than with much distance between 1968 and today, the protests that seemed so big and important didn't have a lasting effect. Perhaps. I'm not sure. Regardless, the police response was as deplorable as that of the Soviets. Lots of motherfuckers in 1968.
This is the world 1968 hath wrought though. We can't forget that.
1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've read this book twice now. The first review, from back in February 2005, was a stupidly pithy and snarky one line: "The protesters of 1968 all seem like rather unpleasant people, and bit like spoiled brats." This second go around, I listened to the book on audio, and my reaction was a bit more nuanced and intelligent. Instead of "unpleasant people," I'm going to use Kurlansky's own words. He kept saying the word of the year in 1968 was "mother fucker." I think that a good chunk of these 1968ers, both those in authority and those protesting, were "motherfuckers." I'm not sure if that was Kurlanksy's attempt or not (he does spend the last chapter distilling some of this down), but that was my takeaway. His best chapters were the back to back chapters on the brutal and sad end of Prague Spring, and the bloody protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I think he forces you into a compare and contrast of the two movements, what they did or did not stand for (reform seemed to be the other word of the year, even more than peace), and the similar outcome for each (authoritarian crackdown). Listening to this rather than reading it gave it an almost storyteller like quality, like sitting down at the foot of - well, not exactly someone who was there; more like a gentle easy to understand historian with a good lecture style. I had forgotten reading it long ago; but I think listening to it will make it stick in my head for sometime to come.
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Something I wanted to add but nearly forgot to do so. I was born in 1970, so any memory of the "age of Aquarius" is a hazy one at best. What I do know that when I was five or six, I was terrified of "hippies." Living in the middle of conservative Kansas, I was exposed to Nixon's silent majority more than flower children (although my father was and is a democrat). I remember one time a motorcycle gang roared by (we lived along a highway), and we were terrified of these "hippies." I wonder if some of my disdain for Abby Hoffman and the Weather Underground and so on may be residual from this fear of hippies.