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1959: The Year Everything Changed

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  442 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Acclaimed national security columnist and noted cultural critic Fred Kaplan looks past the 1960s to the year that really changed America

While conventional accounts focus on the sixties as the era of pivotal change that swept the nation, Fred Kaplan argues that it was 1959 that ushered in the wave of tremendous cultural, political, and scientific shifts that would play ou

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Paperback, 344 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Wiley (first published January 1st 2009)
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Dan C.
Apr 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whenever I read a book that is devoted to a single year, it is so frequently accompanied by the implication that no other year could possibly match it in terms of change that I really don't believe it any longer. There is, in fact a book written about 1969 that uses the exact same tag line as Fred Kaplan's intriguing 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

I mock the drama of implying that the history of the world hinged on a single year - really, it's never that simple. But 1959 was a unique year, on
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Andy
Oct 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What happened in 1959? Well, I can think of a few things... Near the peak of world-wide nuclear paranoia, Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro each toured the U.S. and received surprisingly friendly receptions. Meanwhile, a group of Eisenhower-dispatched U.S. military advisers were killed outside Saigon. Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue and was beaten-up by police outside a club he was performing at. Ornette Coleman began playing at New York’s Five Spot. And William S. Burroughs began serializing ...more
Ken Hoffner
I picked up "1959: The Year Everything Changed" while trying to fill my bag on the last day of our town's library book sale. I was interested in the title because I was born in the 50's and was too young to know what happened in 1959 to "change everything" and lead us toward the "New Frontier."

After reading the book, I agree with the author that much of life as we experience it in 2017 is rooted in the year 1959. Even more surprising, our politics in America seem eerily similar to 1959. So what
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Carolyn Fitzpatrick
This is an interesting exploration of the events of a single year.

First, though it is never stated explicitly on the jacket, this book completely focuses on 1959 in the United States. You won't find any stories about the election of Charles De Gaulle, the marriage of Prince Akihito to a commoner, the revolution in the Dominican Republic, or the flight and exile of the Dalai Lama.

The articles move in chronological order, and as a result there are three topics that are returned to repeatedly: th
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David
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Available as a 10+-hour two-part audio download from Audible.

This audiobook made a long round-trip via ground transporation, made during the holidays with the usual delays and heavy traffic, much more enjoyable.

This book belongs to a school of historical storytelling which I am pleased to call the Herodutus School of History Writing. It could also be less charitably called the Attention Deficit Disorder School. I enjoy reading books of this type very much, allowing myself to be transported by t
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Caitlin
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-of-u-s
I asked my mother (you know who you are)...1959 really wasn't the year everything changed. But, like so many college students (even then!), she was oblivious to contemporary events at that time, so I needed to read this book to see if she was indeed right.

However, the author sets up 1959 and the late 50s in general as the set up years for the 60s movement. Movements never come in nice neat decade-long packages. The reality is that the 50s lasted through 1963, the 1960s through 1974 and so on. Th
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Ron
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every year could be considered unique in its own way, of course, but after reading this detailed look at the year 1959 (actually the period 1957-1961 or so), it's amazing what a crossroads that period was. From politics, society, race, art and music, to science, electronics & computers, sex and more, we are where we are today because of dramatic changes, innovations and awakenings that happened during this period. For those who like details and linkages between supposedly disparate historica ...more
Jgknobler
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I turned 8 in 1959, I felt like this was a book that put my childhood in historical context. Kaplan argues that the particular gestalt of 1959--well, really, the late 50's and early 60's--was the simultaneous belief in possible annihilation from the recently deployed atomic bomb and the infinite possibilities inspired by space exploration. With chapters on subjects as diverse as Ginsberg and Kerouac; the legal battle over the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover; the early days of the Cu ...more
Jared
Apr 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is that all the changes for the 1960s were teed up in 1959. (I guess they're playing off the whole 1491 idea?)

It's interesting when he's talking about changes in science, world affairs, politics, racial strife, etc. He spends waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much time talking about jazz, which is stupid, and other world-changing literature of the day. Some of that is cool, but he utterly fails to mention the Twilight Zone, which debuted in 59. (Boo.)

Still, interes
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Sara
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really, really enjoyed this book. Like most, I idealize the 1960s as a time of massive cultural shifts, but I never realized how much of that was made possible by the events of 1959. The section on the birth of the birth control pill was most enlightening, and topical given the current assault on women's healthcare and reproductive rights.
Stuart Lutz
I enjoyed the book on the whole, but I thought Mr. Kaplan overstretched the importance of 1959. He would say while "x" occured in 1959, it was only because a more important event happened two years earlier. But I learned a lot of small things that happened in that year, including a lot of jazz history.
Jeff
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, well-organized argument that the year 1959 was a watershed year in both science and popular culture.
Amy
Aug 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1959 -- a lot happened during this year and while the author could have just listed the things that happened and provided a brief explanation of each item, Fred Kaplan went in a different direction.

He talks about each occurrence and then provides a detailed history that surrounds these events. For some things, such as the birth control pill, 1959 was a sort of culmination of years of work by Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood) and her contemporaries.

For other events, 1959 was th
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Jeffrey Taylor
Despite its many serious faults, I did like the book. It's simple writing style makes it easy to read. For those of us over 50 it lead to a fun memory trip judging from our discussions; for those under 50 it may be informative about recent history. I'll give it a 3.



Kaplan commits the fallacy of trying to locate the changes which took place in the 60's in a single when there were many changes which took place over a series of years that prepared the way for the 60's. Kaplan has an excessive tende
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Scottnshana
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it would be hard to do what Mr. Kaplan has done here—to take a single year in history that was so full of significance, to break it down into its main currents, and then to show the links between those currents—but he has effectively pulled it off. Did you know, for example, that an NCO from Great Bend, Kansas, was sitting in India during the Second World War trying to make radios lighter for commandos air-dropping into Burma and used this work to invent the microprocessor? Not too far a ...more
Jane
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1959 was, I have learned, an important year. It marked the invention of the integrated circuit, the advent of the birth control pill, the beginning of jet air travel, the start of the race to the moon and the Vietnam War, and major breakthroughs in music, art and literature. It was a hinge point between the generation that had been through two global wars and a depression, for whom social good meant formal suits and dresses, conformity to the rules and "civilized" behavior, and a new generation ...more
Jeff Kelleher
OK nostalgia but force-fed history.

This is Concept History. The traditional historian researches first, then pronounces conclusions. The concept historian pronounces first, then researches.

The concept here is that 1959 was the year when America pivoted from the shallow, stultified '50s to the dynamic, creative 60s.

The trouble with The Concept Method is that the concept deforms the facts. The concept here is simple-minded at best, silly at worst.

David Halberstam's marvelous "The Fifites" put to r
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George
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
NOT MY GLASS OF MUSCATEL.

“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 breaking against the backdrop of the Cold War, the fallout-shelter craze, and the first American casualties of the war in Vietnam.”—front-cover flap.

De
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Chris Craddock
Nov 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting to me because it covered art' architecture, Jazz, Motown, technology, Cold War, arms race, space race, the Beats, and Civil Rights. Edsel and microchip also, but death of Buddy Holly was one sentence. Sure, Kind of Blue was big, but Ornette Coleman was less important than Holly or Elvis in retrospect. Also, artists like Jasper Johns or Jackson Pollack were pretentious crap Meisters. I guess my only quibble is what was left out, and it overemphasized the importance of Jazz an ...more
Craig Werner
May 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sixties
When Kaplan's writing about the various forms of avant-garde/experimental culture that emerged in the early years of the "Long Sixties"--anti-Holywood film, happenings, free (or semi-free) jazz, the "sick" comics, Mailer--he can be quite good. When he's writing about politics, which he seems to do as an obligation, he's much less interesting, prone to sweeping generalizations. It's more a collection of essays loosely organized around the theme of change than an integrated book, but if you're int ...more
Nklein98
Major events that affect change in a society are not spontaneous but have occurred because of small, seemingly insignificant occurrences that build together to create what most people actually see. Most of the premise of the book, "1959, The Year That Changed Everything" is a collection of stories about these small events that would lead to what many think is the most defining decade of sociological change for the US, the 1960's. From the Beat generation writers, the new musicians like Coltrane, ...more
Wileyacez
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well, not only was this one of the oldest books on my list, but I wanted it because (gasp) I was born in 1959. It was another Bookstock 2015 treasure! I found it to be a good read about what was going on in this era; things that I was obviously too young to absorb at the time. There was a lot about jazz, which seems to be a topic that keeps coming across my radar lately. I've got page corners turned down for topics I want to follow up on. The author never got in so deep that I felt over my head, ...more
Beth
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book accomplished what I always hope for when I open a book, it made me think new thoughts. I have been heard to say that the Greatest Generation saved us from the Nazis and then came home and blew it raising their children - the Boomers - who in turn, raised my generation. This book brought new insight to the why and how this happened. And I have a new sense of gratitude for these pioneers who really looked around and started to ask why things in America functioned like they did and ushere ...more
Roseana
Oct 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kaplan makes a great, great case for 1959 being the year in which so many pivotal events took place. Castro seized power in Cuba. Ginsberg read "Howl" at Columbia. Berry Gordy started Motown. Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue. Obscenity cases were won in court, ending a ban on mailing materials like Lady Chatterley' Lover. The U.S. Civil Right Commission released its first report on discrimination in America. The MOMA staged a show featuring Rauschenberg and Johns. The Pill was tested on hundred ...more
Christopher Ligatti
Best thought of as a set of medium length essays all with soem connection to the year 1959. Some of these are more interesting than others. At least 3-4 have to do with the jazz revolution by Miles Davis and others but without having a musical background an understanding chords v scales, these were only somewhat illuminating. Essays on politics, stand up comedy, civil rights, nuclear war, space race, were all very good. While the prose can't match the stylist heights achieved by gore vidal or ch ...more
Robin
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was disappointing. His thesis is that 1959 is under appreciated as a year that was pivotal in political, social, and cultural changes in America. But 1959 itself is rather random -- most of the things he describes took place over a period of years, and he would find some sort of 1959 "hook" to make things look coherent. The book could easily have been "1958" or "1961." The idea that the 50's were not as staid and stable and that the 60's really "began in the 50's" is not particularly n ...more
Ken Bronsil
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1959 saw a remarkable number of significant changes in our daily lives, changes that influenced our lives today. Each chapter in this book--there are 25--tells of one change, discovery, or invention. The book covers politics, art, poetry, music, civil rights, comedy, astronomy, electronics, and on and on.

The chapters aren't that long. There are no superfluous sentences. Kaplan doesn't get too technical with any explanations, but he gives you all that you need to know.

I enjoyed this book a lot.
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Ken
Jul 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose to read 1959 because that was the year I graduated from high school. Reading it confirmed that I was generally oblivious to the world around me at that time.
The book's 25 chapters are cleverly arranged by date, from January 1 when Castro took power in Cuba to January 1, 1960 when JFK announced he was running for President. Other notable events: the start of Motown, the first use of the word 'aerospace,' the invention of the microchip, the application for FDA approval for the birth contro
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Sam
Oct 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Or rather "1959: the year some things important to the author changed." Kaplan is very, very good at describing the changes in arts and culture that happened during his titular year. He does so with compact, knife-sharp thumbnail sketches. In fact he covers everything with these thumbnail sketches (the book feels like a series of magazine articles more than anything else) but when he talks about politics it's somehow less interesting.

In any case his stuff on "Kind of Blue" and "The Shape of Jazz
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Mike
Dec 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a history of 1959 given in very brief vignettes about the important events of the year... at least that is what Kaplan attempts.

There is a lot of good information in this book but there is a lot of distracted meandering around too. Each of the chapters reads like a undergrad's hurried history term papers. There is not a lot of depth and a lot of filler before a short point. You might learn as much from the Wikipedia article on 1959 but the book 1959 is at least usually better written.
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Fred M. Kaplan (b. 1954) is an American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His weekly "War Stories" column for Slate magazine covers international relations and U.S. foreign policy.
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