Decade of the Year
The Best Books About the Volatile ’60s
Half a century ago, everything seemed to turn upside down, from civil rights to the arms race to the sexual revolution and womens’ rights. Historians are just beginning to cope with it all.
This may well be the peak year of historians’ fascination with the ’60s—and particularly political and civil rights history. Here are 15 notable books published in 2014 about the decade of the moment.
The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. VII: To Save the Soul of America, January 1961 to August 1962Clayborne Carson (University of California Press)
This volume of the King papers—a definitive collection of interviews, speeches, and correspondence—covers Dr. King from the Kennedy inauguration through the Albany Movement. The first six volumes of this series are ++ online ++ [https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/publications/king-papers], and seven additional volumes are planned.
All Eyes Are Upon Us: Race and Politics from Boston to BrooklynJason Sokol (Basic)
This groundbreaking history shows a civil rights movement beyond Birmingham, Selma, and Memphis. An important new voice in 20th-century history, Sokol expands the civil rights story to include segregated schools and racial politics in the Northeast.
The Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final YearTavis Smiley and David Ritz (Little Brown)
The Death of a King is a gripping, up-close, and ++ often unflattering portrayal ++ [/content/dailybeast/articles/2014/10/16/tavis-smiley-humanely-chronicles-mlk-s-sad-last-year.html]of King during the last year of his life.
Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President KennedyChristopher Sandford (Prometheus)
Twenty years before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher became famously friendly, two of their respective predecessors—John Kennedy and Harold Macmillan—had a lesser known and more complicated alliance.
The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New MajorityPatrick J. Buchanan (Crown Forum)
Buchanan, a Nixon aide and confidant, sets aside rhetorical pyrotechnics in this insightful memoir of Nixon’s rise from political exile in 1966 to his election to the White House in 1968.
The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights ActClay Risen (Bloomsbury)
Risen tells the story of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the most significant piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction—through the congressmen, White House staff, activists, and others who made it happen.
This book was published on the same day as The Bill of the Century and covers the same territory; taken together, they provide a definitive history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New AmericaJonathan Darman (Random House)
In his first book, Darman displays a deft grasp of Reagan and Johnson’s biographies and of the last half-century of American political history.
No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American CultureMatthew D. Tribbe (Oxford)
Tribbe smartly places the Apollo mission and the 1969 moon landing in the context of international power, faith in rationalism and technology, and popular culture.
Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP Yvonne Ryan (University Press of Kentucky)
The longtime head of the NAACP was long overdue for a deeply researched and elegantly written biography. This is it.
The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union: A Transatlantic Story of Antiracial ProtestStephen Tuck (University of California Press)
At only 200 pages, Tuck’s history reads like magazine journalism—packing both a kaleidoscopic, global view of race in the ’60s and a tight, propulsive story of Malcolm X’s December 1964 trip to England shortly before his death.
The Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement PossibleCharles E. Cobb Jr. (Basic)
One of the great untold stories of the civil rights movement is that the leadership was armed. Even Martin Luther King kept a gun at home. Charles Cobb knows the story well; he was one of the movement’s leaders.
Stokely: A BiographyPeniel E. Joseph (Basic)
Stokely Carmichael was a charismatic firebrand who pushed the civil rights movement from the nonviolent resistance of the ’60s to the Black Power of the ’70s, changed his name to Kwame Ture, and spent the last three decades of his life in West Africa.
Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against FearAram Goudsouzian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Stokely Carmichael also figures into Down to the Crossroads, the strange and seldom recounted story of James Meredith’s March Against Fear. Meredith was shot during a solo march through the state, and the events that followed arguably gave rise to the Black Power movement.
Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made HistoryAndrew Cohen (Signal)
Cohen, a Canadian journalist and columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, focuses on two consecutive days in June 1963 when JFK brought focus to two very different issues in two lyrical speeches about nuclear arms and civil rights.