The best books on America in 1968

The Books I Picked & Why

We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors

By Alice Lynd

We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors

Why this book?

We Won’t Go is a treasure trove of primary document material combined with personal accounts of regular American citizens objecting to the war in Vietnam. Instead of understanding the issue at a surface level, the stories Lynd collected help us understand the kind of arguments objectors had not just with the government, but also with each other. “If we try to avoid arrest,” wrote one conscientious objector, “or are content to let our friends be arrested instead of ourselves, we hand over to the government the key to deter everyone by jailing a few.” Whether you agree or not, Lynd’s book will give you a variety of perspectives on the issue, along with the actual ‘conscientious objector’ application.


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The Jeweler's Eye, A Book Of Irresistible Political Reflections

By William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Jeweler's Eye, A Book Of Irresistible Political Reflections

Why this book?

You can’t fairly assess the sixties without understanding one of the counterculture’s more prominent antagonists. In his sharp and at times scathing syndicated columns, William F. Buckley gave the Republican party some intellectual ground to stand on as the war in Vietnam escalated. This collection of his work, read in tandem with Lynd’s book, should give readers a sharp understanding of the tension coursing through the nation in 1968. Love him or hate him, his April 9, 1968 editorial, ‘The End of Martin Luther King,’ is worth a read. “Whatever [King’s] virtues and whatever his faults,” wrote Buckley, “he did not deserve assassination.” 


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Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Last 31 Hours

By Joseph Rosenbloom

Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Last 31 Hours

Why this book?

I love books that use original interviews and granular detail to recreate specific moments in history. Rosenbloom’s book is a well-paced narrative rich with unique descriptions. There are several books about Dr. King’s assassination, but the reason I appreciate Rosenbloom’s account is that he attempts to recreate without agenda what is arguably the most traumatic moment of 1968. In Rosenbloom’s words: “This book is, most of all, a close-up view of King as he struggled against enormous odds to end poverty in America.” It’s a struggle that continues today. 


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The Year of the People

By Eugene J. McCarthy

The Year of the People

Why this book?

I very nearly put an LBJ or RFK book here, but there’s a greater chance you haven’t heard or may have forgotten Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy’s well-written account of his 1968 political campaign. McCarthy’s insightful memoir gives 21st-century readers a window back into that year of endless drama and conflict. It will also cause some to compare the book’s place in history with Senator Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution. “1968,” wrote McCarthy, “was the year in which the people, in so far as the system and the process would permit, asserted themselves and demonstrated their willingness to make hard political judgments and to take full responsibility for those judgments. And in so doing they acted with more spirit and commitment than did many political leaders.”


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A Bill of Rites, A Bill of Wrongs, A Bill of Goods

By Wright Morris

A Bill of Rites, A Bill of Wrongs, A Bill of Goods

Why this book?

Perhaps you’re already aware of all of these books. Well, allow me to introduce Nebraska-born author Wright Morris—a perpetually ignored force of nature. Morris mainly wrote award-winning fiction, but this collection of essays was a refreshing and straightforward way of looking at, to take one offbeat example, hippies: “Hippies share some knowledge of where they have been, but no demonstrable insight into where they are going…What they share is a condition, not a direction.” Morris even temporarily torpedoes his own genre to make his point. “Who needs fiction? What could be stranger than the news on the hour?” In 1968 America, the ‘truth’ was indeed stranger than fiction.


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