Fifty years on

As my fiftieth birthday approaches, I’ve become interested in learning more about the era I was born into. David Halberstam’s The Fifties was a good starting point, but recently I’ve come across two separate books claiming that the year I was born was a pivotal one: 1959: The Year Everything Changed and 1959: The Year That Changed Our World. The year was certainly important to me, but I wonder — was it really a turning point in human history?

I rather doubt it. Important things happen every year. We fail to realize how important some events are until we have the perspective of history. I imagine 50 years is just the right amount of perspective, so it’s not surprising that such books are coming out now. Perhaps in ten years time we’ll see a similar spate of books about 1969.

The years following my birth were quite eventful as well. Here is a very interesting essay about the early 1960s. Excerpt:

To read through the bound volumes of the newsmagazines Time and Newsweek, issue by issue, from the late ’50s onward, is to be struck, sometime around the beginning of the 1960s, by the sudden proliferation of the word new. Society was newly open, popular culture newly experimental, religious institutions (in the words of one contemporary observer) “newly irenic.” There was even talk among Vatican II-influenced, reform-minded Catholics of a “New Church.” A new national order was under construction: After three centuries, it appeared that America was at last beginning to confront its racial divisions and inequities and move toward greater unity and fairness. And there was a new world order, or at least a “New Europe,” as headlines of the day frequently put it.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it, whether you remember that era or not.

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