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Kennedy and the promise of the sixties
Rorabaugh, W. J.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, [2002]

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xxiii, 317 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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E842.R67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book explores life in America during that brief promising period in the early sixties when John F. Kennedy was the U.S. president. Kennedy's optimism and charm helped to give promise to the times. At the same time, Cold War frustrations in Cuba and Vietnam worried Americans, while the 1962 Missile Crisis narrowly avoided a nuclear disaster. Early in the decade, the Civil Rights movement gained momentum through student sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as a powerful spokesman for non-violent social change and gave his powerful "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in 1963. The Civil Rights movement proved to be the seedbed for many other movements in the decade. The American family was also undergoing rapid change and Betty Friedan launched what became the Women's Movement in 1963. Culture, too, underwent transformation. The Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg gained respectability, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan revived folk music, and Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol produced Pop Art. Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey began to promote psychedelic drugs. The Sixties was a decade of marked political, social, and cultural change. Since 1976 W.J. Rorabaugh has taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of The Alcoholic republic (Oxford, 1979), The Craft Apprentice (Oxford, 1986), and Berkeley at War: The 1960s (Oxford, 1989). Professor Rorabaugh has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Newberry Library, the Huntington Library, and the John F. Kennedy Library. He has served on editorial boards for the Journal of Early Republic and the History of Education Quarterly.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

University of Washington history professor Rorabaugh (Berkeley at War, etc.) argues persuasively that John F. Kennedy personified a narrow slice of American history that was both brazenly optimistic and wantonly self-deceiving. Rorabaugh paints Kennedy as a mirror of his age and Camelot as a highly romanticized fiction of a golden moment that never was. Golden it wasn' t, writes the author, promising it was. Rorabaugh sees Kennedy' s tenure as a unique in-between time coming just after the more conservative, cautious and complacent 1950s and just before the more frenzied, often raucous, and even violent late ' 60s. (In 1962, Rorabaugh notes, the conservative Young Americans for Freedom boasted a national campus membership of over 20,000, while the New Left Students for a Democratic Society carried a roster of just 500. These proportions would be reversed within six years.) And he shows how many of the optimistic seeds sewn by Kennedy who believed, among other things, that he could confidently defend all free-world borders against Communism were quickly strangled by weeds of cynicism and doubt as the ' 60s progressed. In the final analysis, Rorabaugh sees Kennedy' s America as a place of clearly delineated rights and wrongs, good and evil, the defining lines of which began to dissolve not long after (though certainly not because of) Kennedy' s death. Upon closing this fresh analysis of an era, one is left wondering whether JFK would have even recognized the United States where his brother Bobby campaigned for a second Camelot, and where he himself became a martyr in 1968. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Kennedy era (1961-63) was not the golden age of Camelot, but it was promising, concludes Rorabaugh (Berkeley at War: The 1960s). In what is more a social than a political study, he makes good use of oral histories and personal correspondence to show that these years were distinct from the 1950s and the later 1960s, owing in no small part to the Kennedy presence. Although these were the worst years of the Cold War, a sense of optimism projected by the President helped energize the Civil Rights and the new feminist movements. The events and social movements described here the Beats, folk music, Pop Art, changing family roles, and drug use have been discussed in numerous other investigations of the Sixties, but Rorabaugh frames them within their own specific era. Kennedy is viewed much as he was by James Giglio in The Presidency of John F. Kennedy as a talented leader who followed and contributed to the spirit of his times but was not the great president that many Americans think they remember. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Because of its title, this book invites comparison with Henry Fairlie's The Kennedy Promise (CH, Jun'73). Fairlie criticized John Kennedy's presidency, arguing that Kennedy promised much more than he could deliver, leading to national disillusionment and despair. Rorabaugh (Univ. of Washington) largely agrees with this analysis but ventures much further, examining not only politics but also the family, religion, and the arts. Rorabaugh has read widely and well, and his book is enriched by research in numerous manuscript collections. While Fairlie offered a single thesis, Rorabaugh presents a set of them. He argues (1) that Kennedy set his stamp on the early sixties and his death brought the period to an end; (2) that it was an "in between" time, neither as conservative as the 1950s nor as radical as the later 1960s; and (3) that it was a "promising" time. To this reviewer, however, the first proposition seems questionable, the second obvious, and the third questionable in some ways (the Cold War was promising?) and obvious in others (e.g., civil rights). In short, this book is not a precisely conceived menu of historical interpretation, but a smorgasbord of insights. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels and collections. J. A. Hijiya University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Table of Contents

1 Kennedy
2 The cold war
3 Civil rights
4 Families
5 Cosmologies
6 Dallas