The best books on America in 1968

Who am I?

I’m a literary historian and I love reconstructing times in the past with enough factual detail that a reader feels as if they are there with the characters, side-by-side. I didn’t start this way. In fact, I wrote fiction for over a decade. It was only after writing eight atrocious, tension-less, now-in-a-box novels that I realized the books I enjoyed reading most were in the history and biography sections of a bookstore. Still, I was undeniably affected by my years in the trenches of fiction writing. As you may see from my choices, I love reading material from writers attempting to check the pulse of the country at that time. 


I wrote...

One Week in America: The 1968 Notre Dame Literary Festival and a Changing Nation

By Patrick Parr,

Book cover of One Week in America: The 1968 Notre Dame Literary Festival and a Changing Nation

What is my book about?

The major players in this story are names that just about every American has heard of: Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King Jr., Norman Mailer, Lyndon B. Johnson, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, William F. Buckley Jr. For one chaotic week in 1968, college students, talented authors, and presidential candidates grappled with major events. The result was one of the most historic literary festivals of the twentieth century.

One Week in America is a day-by-day narrative of the 1968 Notre Dame Sophomore Literary Festival and the national events that grabbed the spotlight that April week.

The books I picked & why

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We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors

By Alice Lynd,

Book cover of 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.

We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors

By Alice Lynd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Won’t Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the back of the book: "We Won't Go is a collection of accounts by men confronted with the dilemma of conscience which military service poses. In addition to the accounts of these war registers, We Won't Go contains the full text of the Seeger decision, a copy of the application for conscientious objector status, a selection of documents related to war crimes, and a list of sources of information for those who are faced with the problem of the draft."


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

By William F. Buckley, Jr.,

Book cover of 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.” 

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

By William F. Buckley, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jeweler's Eye, A Book Of Irresistible Political Reflections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE JEWELER'S EYE, William Buckley is clearly at his best. He takes on everyone and everything-Gore Vidal, H. Rap Brown homosexuality, Playboy, Red China, Beatle John Lennon, the poll tax, Norman Mailer-you name it. But he never loses his poise, or lets up in his love affair with the English language.


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

By Joseph Rosenbloom,

Book cover of 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. 

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

By Joseph Rosenbloom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Redemption as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An “immersive, humanizing, and demystifying” (Charles Blow, New York Times) look at the final hours of Dr. King’s life as he seeks to revive the non-violent civil rights movement and push to end poverty in America.

At 10:33 a.m. on April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., landed in Memphis on a flight from Atlanta. A march that he had led in Memphis six days earlier to support striking garbage workers had turned into a riot, and King was returning to prove that he could lead a violence-free protest.

King’s reputation as a credible, non-violent leader of the civil…


The Year of the People

By Eugene J. McCarthy,

Book cover of 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.”

The Year of the People

By Eugene J. McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year of the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is the story of one year, told by the man whose candidacy gave people a symbol and a voice. Senator Eugene J. McCarthy helped to create the new politics with a campaign run on issues, rather than personalities; a candidate seeking not to enlarge his personal power but to restore power to the people, especially those whose opinions often seemed to be in the minority. He had the courage to challenge the traditional system - including his party, the President and his policies - and in the process swept a new spirit, a new vitality, and a new…


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

By Wright Morris,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Wright Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Bill of Rites, A Bill of Wrongs, A Bill of Goods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Morris, Wright


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