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1959: The Year Everything Changed | [Fred Kaplan]

1959: The Year Everything Changed

Acclaimed national security columnist and noted cultural critic Fred Kaplan looks past the 1960s to the year that really changed AmericaWhile conventional accounts focus on the 60s 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 out in the decades that followed.
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Publisher's Summary

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 60s 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 out in the decades that followed.

Pop culture exploded in upheaval with the rise of artists like Jasper Johns, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Miles Davis. Court rulings unshackled previously banned books. Political power broadened with the onset of Civil Rights laws and protests. The sexual and feminist revolutions took their first steps with the birth-control pill. America entered the war in Vietnam, and a new style in superpower diplomacy took hold. The invention of the microchip and the Space Race put a new twist on the frontier myth.

As Kaplan vividly chronicles, 1959 was a vital year that set the world as we know it in motion, spearheading immense political, scientific, and cultural change. Drawing fascinating parallels between the country in 1959 and today, Kaplan offers a smart, cogent, and deeply researched take on a overlooked period in American history.

©2009 Fred Kaplan (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Audie Award Nominee - Best History Audiobook, 2011

"Energetic and engaging." (The Washington Post)

"Lively and filled with often funny anecdotes." (Publishers Weekly)

"Immensely enjoyable...a first-rate book." (The New Yorker)

"Narrator Joe Barrett’s voice sounds like a strong whisper. His unique manner with language and inflection sets him apart from any other reader, making all of his narrations memorable. The mixture of his softness with events of the '60s sets a nostalgic mood that might stir memories of bygone days." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (104 )
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3.7 (63 )
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4.1 (65 )
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  •  
    James BROOMFIELD, CO, United States 05-25-11
    James BROOMFIELD, CO, United States 05-25-11
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    "Facinating look at a neglected moment in history"

    Before listening to this book - the fifties only meant Sputnik, Elvis and doo wop to me (born in 54). How wrong I was. This book opened a new world to me from investigation of classic jazz recordings to some very interesting pre-60's philosophy and thought that I knew nothing of.

    If you want your perception of the 50's as a sleepy decade to be given a jolt, this is the book to do it!! Very well done - even handed and broad in scope.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Parola138 United States 03-10-11
    Parola138 United States 03-10-11 Member Since 2005

    We bite

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    "Enjoyed"

    I enjoyed this book very much. It had a very broad history of the time that really illuminated the beats, jazz music, and race struggles of the time leading up to, at, and beyond 1959. Narration was great. Well-written.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Baton Rouge, LA, United States 12-19-11
    William Baton Rouge, LA, United States 12-19-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Every excruciating detail related to jazz music."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    This would have been a 4- or 5-star experience if technology, politics, and rock & roll had been given as much attention as jazz music.


    What was most disappointing about Fred Kaplan’s story?

    It was extremely difficult to listen to all the details regarding jazz music. You learn the actual DATES on which obscure jazz musicians made obscure recordings, and the recording halls in which they made them. It seems there were also a few mentions of what the musicians had for breakfast on the morning of the recordings, along with the actual street locations of certain recording studios. Hours and hours were devoted to jazz music, but only about an hour total related to rock & roll, computer technology, and politics (one part of a chapter covering the Cuban Missile Crisis). I don't recall anything related to television programming or technology. If The Tonight Show was mentioned, I don't remember it.


    Which character – as performed by Joe Barrett – was your favorite?

    Not applicable


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment


    Any additional comments?

    If you want to know all there is to know about jazz music and jazz musicians in the quarter-centuries before and after 1959, this is the book for you. And, oh, yes - the 2 or 3 chapters devoted to William Burroughs and The Naked Lunch were also painful. I knew a lot more about both after reading the wikipedia article than I did after listening to this book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Martha Charlotte, MI, United States 04-16-11
    Martha Charlotte, MI, United States 04-16-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Great window into near past"

    This book brough together the threads and names of the late 1950's. Names I knew well, but had never seen as parts of larger patterns. Some surprises. Even though I was 12 in the year, I had no sence of how many profound pathes were being started in that time. Reads easily. A full story of the evolution of jazz during the time.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    HK Brad Hong Kong 02-27-12
    HK Brad Hong Kong 02-27-12 Member Since 2006
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    "A simplified view through rose-colored glasses"
    What disappointed you about 1959?

    This author presents an incredibly simplified and rose-tinted view of most of the subjects covered. The author is clearly not much of a historian, but rather a reporter whose love of Kennedy, jazz and the beat generation assures that he has no ability to look critically at almost anything he covers in this book. There are some interesting facts, but given that he constantly stretches to count things as occuring as


    Has 1959 turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No, I assume there are more talented writers out there.


    Have you listened to any of Joe Barrett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Nope


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from 1959?

    Irrelevent. The whole premise is flawed and the author so in love with his subjects that the book requires too much editing to bother


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ben Fenelton, PA, United States 06-11-12
    Ben Fenelton, PA, United States 06-11-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Boring topics selected, with monotone narration."
    Any additional comments?

    If you're into Jazz, it might be okay. I was expecting more on general history, but it's very heavy on the arts... Jazz, literature, painting, etc... kind of weak on everything else. I probably stopped listening about 2/3 of the way through it and never went back to it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Atlanta, GA, United States 03-24-14
    Douglas Atlanta, GA, United States 03-24-14 Member Since 2011

    I like to read but listening is better.

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    "Interesting and Educational"

    This book wasn't what I expected but it was still worth reading. It was certainly interesting and (for me at least) very educational. I really didn't know much about the culture of the late 50's so all of that stuff was new to me. The sections on jazz, art, literature were the highlights for me.

    This book is unusual in that it really doesn't attempt to weave different narratives together throughout and then pull them all together at the end or anything like that. There's an introductory chapter and a closing chapter that sort of try to give a broad perspective. But the rest of the book is made up of chapters concerning different areas of America in the late 50's, and there really aren't strong links from chapter to chapter.

    The title of the book is neat but not exactly an apt description for the book. The book is basically about the late 50's and the early outbreaks of change that would lead to the dramatic changes of the 60's.

    The narrator is fine.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cletus van Damme Edmond, OK, United States 04-30-13
    Cletus van Damme Edmond, OK, United States 04-30-13 Member Since 2008
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    "The Arts in New York City in 1959"

    While the opening chapters briefly discuss foreign affairs and the space race, the greater part of the book is devoted to changes in architecture, cinema, literature, music, painting, and photography in New York City. The book's perspective on events in 1959 reminds me of "The New Yorker" magazine cover by Saul Steinberg, skewed to give New York prominence over the rest of the country. The book is interesting in a Don Draper-esque kind of way but hardly lives up to its thesis that the course of world history was changed by events in 1959. Kaplan himself was only five years old in 1959. It is obvious that his true love is jazz (he writes jazz reviews for "Stereophile" magazine) and that he fantasizes about hanging out with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Fans of "Mad Men" will probably enjoy some chapters and may find themselves (like I did) rushing out to buy an album by Ornette Coleman just to see what all the fuss is about. In the end, Kaplan (like Sal Paradise) has "nothing to offer anybody except [his] own confusion."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim MOUNT DORA, FL, United States 12-19-12
    Jim MOUNT DORA, FL, United States 12-19-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Extraordinary Book!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of 1959 to be better than the print version?

    Yes, because Joe Barrett's reading is exceptional. The timbre of his voice is very pleasing and his inflections are pitch perfect. I can't think of anyone who could have delivered a better performance.


    What other book might you compare 1959 to and why?

    Good question. This work is so comprehensive that it's difficult to compare to another book that isn't a straight-ahead reference. It addresses the political and geopolitical issues of the era, the space program and the important changes in jazz, literature and art. Simply, it's the most engrossing and informative non-fiction book I've read in years. Fred Kaplan had a great idea and employed a brilliant angle. I've listened to this book several times and learn something new with every listen. This work is for anyone interested in a complete (if there is such a thing) education. It's quite impressive and I was delighted to discover it.


    Have you listened to any of Joe Barrett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Never, but very pleased with Joe Barrett's excellent performance.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It's engaging and engrossing, but who has that kind of time? One looks forward to earmarking the time to listen.


    Any additional comments?

    Five stars! Eagerly await any other works by Fred Kaplan.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John North Jackson, Ohio, United States 07-17-12
    John North Jackson, Ohio, United States 07-17-12 Member Since 2009
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    "GREAT Audiobook"

    1959 is the year I was born, so I had some serious interest in this book. I was not disappointed.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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