The Times They Were A-Changin’: 1964—The Year the Sixties Arrived and the Battle Lines of Today Were Drawn

Arcade: Skyhorse. Jun. 2022. 456p. ISBN 9781950994106. $29.99. HIST
It’s hard to imagine a year that had more major events than 1964, and McElvaine (history, Millsaps Coll.; Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America) attempts to distill all of this in his newest work. The year 1964 included the civil rights movement, the escalating war in Vietnam, a major turning-point presidential election—and the Beatles! This book contains a lot of intriguing historical tidbits, some that may even be quite shocking to current sensibilities; some long-known (but usually whispered) anecdotes about President Lyndon Johnson, in particular, paint an unflattering picture. While the shock factor may serve a certain prurient interest, it’s difficult for readers to get a feel for the time period as a whole from such exposures. In fact, an ongoing problem with McElvaine’s book is its overemphasis on making contrasts between 1964 and the political and cultural climate of the 2020s; no story from 1964 seems to be told without an immediate matching reference to today. It comes off as if the author doesn’t trust his readers to see the historical parallels for themselves. Nonetheless, it’s hard to make a year like 1964 uninteresting.
VERDICT Despite its flaws, McElvaine’s book will be enjoyable for readers who like popular history, and particularly for Baby Boomers feeling wistful about the past.
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