1969: The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick

This is a great read for students of history, those who lived through it and those who have arrived long after but want some insight into the cultural, political, economic and social changes that ended the golden promise of the 60’s and informed the “Me” generation of the 70’s and right on through to today.

I am the last of the baby boomers. It was fun to look back at the incredible year that 1969 was: from the moon walk to Manson. It reflected so many of the things we referenced as teenagers in the coming decade. And as surprising as it might sound, this was a year that really closed the decade out in a negative way. Peace and love gave way to social unrest and violence.

The decade is covered in detail. Each chapter addresses an issue that was important (Vietnam, anti-war protests) or culturally significant (man’s walk on the moon, Woodstock, the Tate/LaBianca murders). There are a million other things in between that are of equal or greater interest to the reader.

1969 is a real demarcation line. For those of you (us) who watched and enjoyed “Mad Men”, 1969 is the real coda to that series. Don Draper may well have ended the decade buying the world a Coke and flashing the peace sign after his est retreat, but the real end of that decade was much darker.

Like many kids coming into the world today who greet each newscast with images of war, the first ten years of my life were marked by Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner sharing the nightly tally of death from Vietnam. It influenced artistic choices and interests for me. The music changed from bubble gum pop to harder edged progressive rock, rock operas and the more internally focused singer/songwriter genre. Woodstock, three days of peace and love, gave way to Altamont, one day and night of death and destruction.

Johnson’s socially progressive domestic policy and disastrous foreign policy gave Tricky Dick Nixon the leverage he needed to vault into the White House after his terrible showing opposite Kennedy.  We saw Buddhists and students and then middle America, oppose our involvement in an unwinnable war that the Vietnamese had been waging for more than 50 years against the French, the English, The Americans and each other.

The bottom line is that I loved this book. It is well worth reading as in a few short years, it will be a half century since 1969. This is a good time to look back and review our mistakes as well as our successes and take stock as a nation.

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