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Publisher's Summary

A major new history of one of the seminal years in the postwar world, when rebellion and disaffection broke out on an extraordinary scale.

The year 1968 saw an extraordinary range of protests across much of the western world. Some of these were genuinely revolutionary - around ten million French workers went on strike 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.

1968 is a striking and original attempt half a century later 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. 1968 pursues the story into the 1970s to show both the ever more violent forms of radicalization that stemmed from 1968 and the brutal reaction that brought the era to an end.

©2018 Richard Vinen (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

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Organized Chaos

This book is less a history of protest movements in the late 1960s than it is a critical reflection of the complications and contradictions of the era. It is an often rewarding book that challenges easy generalizations and empty nostalgia, but it may not be a great starting point for an uninitiated reader. The book has an almost reversed organization that is artful in replicating the confusion of the era, but its structure may be disorienting for a reader wanting a clear, causal, or linear overview of the topic. The introduction begins at a breakneck speed under the assumption that the reader is familiar with the events and figures at the center of protest movements in France and the U.S. It isn't until the conclusion that Vinen explicitly addresses the reasons for revolutionary protest in the late 1960s. The book focuses on four countries (France, the U.S., West Germany, and Great Britain) and Vinen handles them with mixed results. His work on France is excellent in its detail and analysis, but Vinen is clearly less informed and comfortable with American political history. For the most part the U.S. chapter devolves into simple summary and superficial commentary. The chapters on Germany and Britain are so under developed that they become afterthoughts. Still, when Vinen is at his best he is making points that challenge the reader to reflect and reevaluate.

The narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds is generally very good, but there are a few shortcomings to his reading. His performances of American accents are unbearable and there are moments when in delivering an impassioned quote his voice gets so loud that it actually hurt my ears and caused me to pull out my earbuds. This was an audiobook first for me. He does, however, handle the copious amounts of French words and phrases with ease. Vinen does seem to write under the assumption that the reader has a basic working knowledge of French. On the page it may be easier to slow down to decipher (or even stop and look up) French terms and quotations that are not otherwise provided with English translation, but with an audiobook it would be nearly impossible to keep pace with Vinen's interspersing of French throughout the text without a modest level of language proficiency. Ce n'est pas grave, mais le livre a beaucoup de mots français.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful