cover image The Shattering: America in the 1960s

The Shattering: America in the 1960s

Kevin Boyle. Norton, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-393-35599-4

America’s fragile post-WWII consensus foundered on the shoals of racial conflict, war, and the sexual revolution, according to this insightful study. Northwestern University historian Boyle (Arc of Justice) focuses on three themes in this loosely chronological narrative of the 1960s through 1972. The grandest is the civil rights movement’s demolition of Jim Crow and segregation—in Boyle’s telling, it’s an epic of dogged organizing and courageous showdowns with racist violence that ultimately bogged down in white backlash against forced busing to integrate schools. The second is the Vietnam War, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency and splintered Cold War liberalism into an enduring political and countercultural rift between left and right. The third is the establishment of a constitutional right to privacy in court cases legalizing birth control and abortion, which became a main front in the struggle between feminists and religious conservatives. Boyle’s elegantly written account weaves together evolving currents of activism, mainstream politics, and public opinion with vignettes of ordinary people’s lives and vivid profiles of Martin Luther King Jr., segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, and lesser-known figures such as civil rights organizer Ella Baker and Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade. The result is a skillful encapsulation of an era that brought to a boil conflicts still tormenting American society today. Photos. (Oct.)