Cover image for America divided : the civil war of the 1960s
America divided : the civil war of the 1960s
Isserman, Maurice.
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Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 358 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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1450 Lexile.
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E841 .I87 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In America Divided, Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin provide the definitive history of the 1960s, in a book that tells a compelling tale filled with fresh and persuasive insights. Ranging from the 1950s right up to the debacle of Watergate, Isserman (a noted historian of the Left) and Kazin (a leading specialist in populist movements) not only recount the public and private actions of the era's many powerful political figures, but also shed light on the social, cultural,and grassroots political movements of the decade. Indeed, readers will find a seamless narrative that integrates such events as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Rolling Thunder with the rise of Motown and Bob Dylan, and that blends the impact of Betty Friedan, Martin Luther King, and GeorgeWallace with the role played by organizations ranging from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to the Campus Crusade for Christ. The authors' broad ranging approach offers us the most sophisticated understanding to date of the interaction between key developments of the decade, such asthe Vietnam War, the rise and fall of the Great Society, and the conservative revival. And they break new ground in their careful attention to every aspect of the political and cultural spectrum, depicting the 1960s as a decade of right-wing resurgence as much as radical triumph, of Protestantapocalyptic revivalism as much as Roman Catholic liberalism and rising alternative religions. Never before have all sides of the many political, social, and cultural conflicts been so well defined, discussed, and analyzed--all in a swiftly moving narrative. With America Divided, the struggles of the Sixties--and their legacy--are finally clear.

Author Notes

Maurice Isserman is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History at Hamilton College, and is the author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left. He lives in upstate New York. Michael Kazin is Professor of History at Georgetown University, and is theauthor of The Populist Persuasion: An American History and Barons of Labor. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Your shelves may already have a book or two by Kazin (of Georgetown University) and Isserman (from Hamilton College); both have authored several thoughtful historical studies. Here, they address the "civil war" they participated in: the 1960s. Their volume is a solid survey, with chapters devoted to obvious subjects (the civil rights movement, the Great Society, Vietnam and the antiwar movement, the New Left, youth culture, other liberation movements), but also several chapters on particular years (1963, 1965, 1968) that dramatize the multiple events Americans had to deal with almost simultaneously. One major focus of Isserman and Kazin's book is demonstrating that the era's notable political developments included activism among young people on both the right and the left; another is an exploration of the search many Americans undertook for a more authentic spirituality: a search that led seekers to every form of religion, from fundamental Christianity to liberation theology to Eastern religions and New Age belief. America Divided thus resists easy generalizations, elucidating a confusing time in all its complexity. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Historians (and former 1960s radicals) Isserman (If I Had a Hammer) and Kazin (The Populist Persuasion) mount an intermittently convincing reinterpretation of the 1960s. They start off strong with the Civil War Centennial Commission's remarkable decision to avoid any mention of slavery or emancipation in its five-year-long celebrationÄvividly illustrating America's forced "normalcy" as the decade began. But they go on to present an erratic vision of the decade. For instance, they inexplicably relegate the huge 1963 March on Washington to a brief mention. And the popular song "Louie Louie" merits a longer discussion than such critical texts and events as SDS's Port Huron statement and the Supreme Court's Griswold decision. Further, they artificially separate their discussion of politics, culture and spiritualityÄthree strands that were intimately linked in the era. The authors' revisionist take does offer some useful correctives, for instance, to the false notions that the War on Poverty was a massive giveaway program and that in the '60s liberalism held sway ("Of the three main branches of the federal government, liberals held the commanding heights... in only one branch, the judiciary... liberalism was neither sufficiently coherent as a political philosophy nor sufficiently well organized as a political movement, to realize many ambitions"). But the dearth of historical analysis of the "why" of this situation will leave many readers unsatisfied. In short, this is a sometimes useful if tepid and occasionally odd corrective to more lopsided views of the '60s. Photos. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Isserman (If I Had a Hammer) and Kazin (The Populist Persuasion) are two of the keenest practitioners of the history of American people's politics. Both came of age in the 1960s, and each has a genetic link, respectively, to the Old Left and the grand liberal tradition of the 1930s. No better-suited collaborators could join to offer a history of the American Sixties. But while the book they offer is commendably balanced, the authors have not written a definitive text. Oddly, they cover most penetratingly terrain already well trod by more staid scholars: conventional electoral politics, Vietnam, the four presidencies, the assassinations. Their most important contribution comes in demonstrating the rise not only of a New Left but a new and persistent Right. By contrast, their writing on the advent of the counterculture, movement politics, and especially urban black nationalism is familiar and too brief. The authors seem to be aiming this book at the undergraduate survey-course marketÄeach reference to Jim Crow is accompanied by a parenthetical definitionÄand apparently decided to economize on the very subjects still most unsettled by conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, this is recommended for academic, secondary school, and public libraries.ÄScott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Isserman and Kazin's book is the latest entry in the "interpret the '60s sweepstakes," and is an interesting and generally useful addition to the literature. Apparently designed chiefly for undergraduates, it attempts to pull together the varied and often conflicting themes of the period to form a cohesive whole, under the subheading of "civil war." Because only a minority of Americans actually participated in these protests and debates and their behavior was often quite uncivil, Isserman's subtitle is not terribly revealing. What is particularly useful about this book, however, is its largely successful efforts to include all the major topics and issues in one volume. Individual chapters focus on civil rights, liberalism, the war in Vietnam, LBJ's Great Society, youth culture, the New Left, the New Right, and the disintegration of most of these movements and philosophies by the end of the decade. This synthesis forces readers to consider the '60s as a whole, not piecemeal. It ought to be read in conjunction with Robert Buzzanco's Vietnam and the Transformation of American Life (CH, Jun'99), and belongs in every public and undergraduate library. J. Andrew; Franklin and Marshall College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. Gathering of the Forcesp. 7
2. Black Ordeal, Black Freedomp. 23
3. The New Frontier of American Liberalismp. 47
4. Why Did the United States Fight in Vietnam?p. 67
5. 1963p. 85
6. The Rise of the Great Societyp. 107
7. 1965p. 131
8. The Making of a Youth Culturep. 151
9. The New Leftp. 173
10. The Fall of the Great Societyp. 195
11. The Conservative Revivalp. 213
12. 1968p. 229
13. Many Faiths: The '60s Reformationp. 249
14. No Cease-Fire: 1969-1974p. 269
Conclusion: Winners, Losers, and Consequencesp. 301
Critical Events During the Long 1960sp. 311
Bibliographical Essayp. 319
Notesp. 325
Indexp. 355