cover image The Contest: The 1968 Election and the War for America’s Soul

The Contest: The 1968 Election and the War for America’s Soul

Michael Schumacher. Univ. of Minnesota, $34.95 (560p) ISBN 978-0-8166-9289-7

Drawing largely from oral histories and papers of the major candidates, Schumacher, author of biographies of Eric Clapton, Francis Ford Coppola, and Allen Ginsberg, delivers a straightforward account of how the candidates in the 1968 American presidential election grappled with events and their own inner demons. Sensing electoral doom given the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson backed out of a second-term run, leaving the race to three candidates: Democrat Hubert Humphrey, who tried and failed to break with Johnson over the war, dooming his candidacy in the process; Republican Richard Nixon, who, determined not to let the prize slip through his fingers a second time, shed his ignominious 1960 persona and reinvented himself as a vigorous glad-hander; and arch-segregationist Independent George Wallace, who drew Nixon rightward into the embrace of Southern racists. At the July Democratic convention, there was violent confrontation between Chicago police and the Yippies, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, and other antiestablishment groups who turned up to protest. Like the election itself, the book is anticlimactic: there’s plenty of good storytelling but no new revelations. This durable history underlines all the nuances for readers who lived it and showcases the period’s drama for readers new to one of the defining sagas of the ’60s. (July)