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message 1: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
May 1968 was fifty years ago this month. I've long been fascinated with this period in history....

The volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France. At the height of its fervor, it brought the entire economy of France to a virtual halt. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution; the national government itself momentarily ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly fled France for a few hours. The protests spurred an artistic movement, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans.


Here's a good article in today's Guardian about books that reference May 1968 and the period more generally....

May 1968: the revolution retains its magnetic allure


I've read My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

...and really enjoyed it

Click here to read my review


The Long '68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies by Richard Vinen, and as also referenced in that Guardian article above, sounds interesting/ Has anyone read it?

The 'long 68' saw an extraordinary range of protests across much of the western world. Some of these were genuinely revolutionary - around 10 million French workers struck and the whole state teetered on the brink of collapse. Others were more easily contained, but had profound longer term implications - terrorist groups, feminist collectives, gay rights activists could all trace important roots to 1968. Bill Clinton and even Tony Blair are, in many ways, the product of 68.

The Long '68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies is a striking and original attempt, half a century on, to show how these events, which in some ways still seem so current, stemmed from histories and societies which are in practice now extraordinarily remote from our own time.

Amazon UK page


So, what books have you read about May 68?

Student unrest?

Political unrest in the late 1960s?

What would you recommend?

What would you like to read?


message 2: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 204 comments Can't think of any to my shame off the top of my head, however did a search and it brought up this, books apparently published in 1968 according to Goodreads. These may or may not be of interest to people.

message 3: by Cordelia (new)

Cordelia (anne21) That was a pretty exciting time. It was the year that I left school.

message 4: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1290 comments Year I graduated from high school.

My brother was in the army in DC until August when he got his discharge. So he was at the Pentagon demonstrations - he was in charge of the bullets. He was alsoat the train station when they brought Robert Kennedy's body to be buried at Arlington. He received several thank you notes from Ethel for this.

In Evanston, the students at Northwestern closed the big gates across Sheridan Road, thus blocking commuters on the North Shore (mostly wealthy).

I read a book some years ago about the student demonstrations in '68 around the world. Can't recall the name now.

message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10655 comments Mod
There is a book about this period £1,49 Kindle Deal of the Day today:

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam Huế 1968 A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden

By January 1968, despite an influx of half a million American troops, the fighting in Vietnam seemed to be at a stalemate.Yet General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces, announced a new phase of the war in which 'the end begins to come into view.' The North Vietnamese had different ideas. In mid-1967, the leadership in Hanoi had started planning an offensive intended to win the war in a single stroke. Part military action and part popular uprising, the Tet Offensive included attacks across South Vietnam, but the most dramatic and successful would be the capture of Hue, the country's cultural capital. At 2:30 a.m. on January 31, 10,000 National Liberation Front troops descended from hidden camps and surged across the city of 140,000. By morning, all of Hue was in Front hands save for two small military outposts.

The commanders in country and politicians in Washington refused to believe the size and scope of the Front's presence. Captain Chuck Meadows was ordered to lead his 160-marine Golf Company against thousands of enemy troops in the first attempt to re-enter Hue later that day. After several futile and deadly days, Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham would finally come up with a strategy to retake the city, block by block and building by building, in some of the most intense urban combat since World War II.

With unprecedented access to war archives in the U.S. and Vietnam and interviews with participants from both sides, Bowden narrates each stage of this crucial battle through multiple points of view. Played out over twenty-four days of terrible fighting and ultimately costing 10,000 combatant and civilian lives, the Battle of Hue was by far the bloodiest of the entire war. When it ended, the American debate was never again about winning, only about how to leave. In Hue 1968, Bowden masterfully reconstructs this pivotal moment in the American war in Vietnam.

message 6: by Hugh (last edited May 11, 2018 11:09PM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 753 comments Of the books I have read that were set at this time the one I remember best is No Telling by Adam Thorpe which is a novel about Paris in 1968

message 7: by Nigeyb (last edited May 11, 2018 11:22PM) (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "There is a book about this period £1.49 Kindle Deal of the Day today:

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam"

Thanks Susan. I've read quite a bit about Vietnam. This does look interesting though, and is one I've yet to read.

I'm more interested in the events in Paris and France in May 1968, which feel so iconic, and yet I know little about what actually happened.

Hugh wrote: "Of the books I have read that were set at this time the one I remember best is No Telling by Adam Thorpe which is a novel about Paris in 1968"

Thanks Hugh - I'll have a look at that one. Sounds v promising. I think you've mentioned it before too.

Set in 1968 in the Parisian suburbs, No Telling is narrated by twelve-year-old Gilles as he approaches his Solemn Communion, puberty, and some sense of the chaos around him. His home is deeply dysfunctional: a dithering mother, a hard-drinking, womanising uncle who becomes his stepfather, and an older sister, Carole - an unbalanced revolutionary who hasn't danced her ballet steps since the death of their real father. Gilles is blithely unaware that any of this is out of the ordinary, as he and his friend Christophe try and piece together a world from fragments of rumour and hushed adult conversation. There is a deeper trauma here, however, far more shocking than anything Gilles could have dreamt of - a mystery it will take the events of the novel and eight years to resolve.

message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I haven't read anything about May '68 to be honest, I just came across that title by chance. I think I would prefer to start with a non-fiction book, but I will check out the links.

message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael (mikeynick) | 332 comments Interesting topic.
I was born May 1968 just had another 29th birthday!
It would interesting to see what kind of I was born into.

message 10: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 204 comments Happy belated birthday! : )

Some interesting book suggestions. Will have a look. I'm like Susan I think I'd be more interested in non-fiction, but keen to read some fictional stuff after.

message 11: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 204 comments Anyone interested in visiting the Tate in London, Spotlights, which tend to be small displays at Tate Britain, they have one on London 1968. How the May protests impacted on the work of artists.

message 12: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Thanks Roisin - that sounds very interesting

message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Thanks, Roisin. I took my daughter to Tate Modern a while ago and she loved it. I think it's such a great experience just getting there and crossing the bridge to the gallery. Tate Britain should be next on the list, as she enjoys art.

For anyone with young children, I used to take mine, when younger, to the National Gallery on some Saturday mornings. when they do story time, based around the paintings. It's a great introduction to galleries.

message 14: by Greg (new)

Greg | 134 comments This is an era of change I also am very interested in. I like this thread.

I recently finished reading Kissinger: 1923 - 1968 The Idealist by the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. This biography is part 1. It covers the geo-politics of the 1960s comprehensively. Not just U.S. politics but Europe and globally.
Towards the end of the book it is enlightening about the secret peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam in the Paris peace talks. Kissinger was the U.S. negotiator. (More on this later)

This quote by Niall Ferguson nails it.

"The 1960s were, after all, about more than just flower power; they were also about processing power."

message 15: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Thanks Greg - it is indeed a fascinating era

I've just come across this wonderful selection of photos and posters from Paris May 1968....

message 16: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I've seen a few of these posters around Brighton and Hove in the last few weeks. I think its wonderful that someone has taken the trouble to reprint them and paste them up...

Debut d'une lutte prolongee (Beginning of a Long Struggle)

message 17: by Greg (new)

Greg | 134 comments Thanks Nigeyb for the Pinterest link. I love this poster art.

message 19: by Greg (new)

Greg | 134 comments The PARIS '68 is a bit expensive, but I plan to get the other three.

message 20: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Wow. That's commitment Greg. Bravo. Please update the thread when you start perusing them.

message 21: by Greg (new)

Greg | 134 comments I was thinking this morning as I woke up about the background that caused the violent student and worker street protests in May '68 in Paris. Later in the morning something twigged me to look in the book I had started reading some years ago and put aside. 'A History of Contemporary Italy 1943 - 1980' by Paul Ginsborg.
 A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1988

I went to chapter 9, The Era of Collective Action, 1968 - 73.
'Between 1962 and 1968 the governments of the centre-left had failed to respond to the multiple needs of a rapidly changing Italy. They had done both too little and too much, in the sense that they had talked endlessly of reform but then left expectations unfulfilled. From 1968 onwards paralysis from above gave way to movement from below. There followed a most extraordinary period of social ferment, the high season of collective action in the history of the Republic. During it the organization of Italian society was challenged at nearly every level. No single moment in Italy equalled in intensity and in revolutionary potential the events of May 1968 in France, but the Italian protest movement was the most profound and long-lasting n Europe. It spread from the schools and universities into the factories, and then out again into society as a whole.'

Then it goes into the reasons that led to the protests. I think the reasons were basically the same as in France. One important factor was the feeling against the Vietnam War.

'The Revolt of the Students, 1967-8
The material bases of the explosion of protest in the Italian universties are to be found in the education reforms of the 1960s. With the introduction in 1962 of compulsory secondary education until the age of fourteen, the number of school students nearly doubled between 1959 and 1969. A mass education system beyond primary school had been created for the first time. It had grave inadequacies - traditional curricula, a shortage of classrooms and textbooks, a lack of teacher training institutions, etc. - but it did open up new horizons for hundreds of thousands of children from the 'ceti medi' and the working class.'

'The decision to allow open access to such a grossly inadequate university system amounted simply to planting a time bomb in it.'

'Their sense of rejection was able to find fertile support in minority developments in both the dominant ideologies of Italy, Catholicism and Marxism.'

The author mentions a book that looks very interesting.

'More than ever before, attention was paid to the need for social justice. In 1967, Don Milani, a dissident Catholic priest, published an extraordinary book called 'Lettera a una professoressa'. In it, students from the school of Barbiana, in the village of Vicchio Mugello, north of Florence, documented the class bias of the educational system and the triumph of individualism in the new Italy.'
I couldn't find an English translation edition.

Back to A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1988
Then further on

'This ethical revolt drew inspiration and political identity from the dramatic and unique international conjuncture of the late 1960s. The Vietnam war changed the way a whole generation of Italians thought about America. The American dream of the 1950s was shattered by the newsreels of the napalming of Vietnamese villages in the 1960s and by example of peasant resistance to the American war machine.'

The chapter expands on other aspects that influenced dissention.

message 22: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Thanks Greg - that is fascinating.

message 23: by Judy (last edited May 14, 2018 11:36PM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I failed to spot this in the TV listings, but a few days ago there was a documentary on BBC4 about May 1968 in France, Vive la Revolution! Joan Bakewell on May '68.

This is available on BBC iPlayer for the next 24 days:

message 24: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Thanks so much Judy - will definitely be watching that before it disappears 👊🏻💥

message 25: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I failed to spot this in the TV listings, but a few days ago there was a documentary on BBC4 about May 1968 in France, Vive la Revolution! Joan Bakewell on May '68."

I've now watched the first half of this documentary and it's superb - highly recommended.

message 26: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Finally finished the Joan Bakewell documentary

Absolutely extraordinary and highly recommended

I had no idea that 10 million workers had been on strike and that the Stock Exchange got set on fire

And, that finally a spooked De Gaulle called an election....and won convincingly. Although a year later he retired.

The utopian dream failed, probably through lack of coherent objectives, but what an extraordinary sequence of events.

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