... [a] luminous guide to a tumultuous decade ... Boyle elegantly narrates the ’60s through his three lenses—race, militarism and sexuality—and The Shattering wears its scholarship lightly. Still, there are some things he might have done differently. His early chapters sketch the background decades but try to cover too much ground and end up disjointed. He also might have made less of the War on Poverty’s original intention ... But these are all small challenges on the margins of Boyle’s bright narrative.
... [a] rich, layered account of the 1960s ... Whatever consensus politics existed in the 1950s, Boyle sets out to contextualize it in terms of the interests belonging to a particular postwar demographic—the rapidly growing middle classes ... Boyle’s roiling account is full of...juxtapositions, showing how conflicting impulses made for a 1950s political order whose stalwart exterior masked a 'fragile arrangement' ... the book covers the range of material you would expect from any foundational account of the 1960s and the penumbra around it—Kennedy in Dallas, King in Memphis, unrest in Newark and Watts, LSD and the pill. But he also writes about those moments that can sometimes get lost in the deluge.
Along with most professional historians, Boyle rejects the commonly held assumption that a Berlin Wall separated the consensual 1950s from the divisive '60s. In the '50s, he demonstrates, amid repression, racism, anxiety and anger, boundaries were contested and occasionally broken. Inevitably, given the number of books on the 1960s, a lot of material in The Shattering will be familiar to readers. That said, Boyle enlivens his narrative with emblematic vignettes.
A professor of history at Northwestern University, Boyle draws on a wide range of important historical scholarship produced over the last 20 or so years on topics like the Black freedom movement, modern political history and U.S. empire ... Boyle has a gift for synthesizing and translating the often dry arguments and analysis of formal scholarship (my own included) into artful and empathetic storytelling ... Through vivid and poignant descriptions, the reader sees the tragedy of the Vietnam War through the eyes of 21-year-old helicopter pilot James Farley, weeping over the body of a fellow soldier, and the Kent State shooting from the perspective of the father of one of the slain students. Boyle also plumbs the diaries of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to offer glimpses of their interior worlds. This approach does more than just lessen the distance between presidents and ordinary Americans, it also reveals how the issues of civil rights, Vietnam and sexual freedom, which are usually told on different planes, affected politicians and people like the Cahills who experienced the events firsthand or watched them on nightly news broadcasts ... What distinguishes The Shattering is not only the way it deepens the portrait of the past, but also how it foreshadows the politics of the future ... Boyle is restrained in drawing too many parallels between the 1960s and the present. He need not struggle to do so. The events and issues outlined in The Shattering defined not just the 1960s but our own times as well. By shining a spotlight on racial justice, a forever war and reproductive freedom in the past, Boyle offers important lessons for the present and the future.
Boyle's cleverly written book...dives deep into figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Alabama governor George Wallace and also profiles vitally important people who have been less often written about, including Ella Baker and Estelle Griswold. The book is enhanced by maps of U.S. military conflicts and photographs from the civil rights movement and other events ... Fans of Boyle’s previous works and readers of books by Isabel Wilkerson and Jon Meachum will find exceptional research and powerful writing in this outstanding history.
A concise, beautifully written history of the 'long' 1960s, bringing the most important events and developments of that tumultuous decade to vivid life ... the author delivers a potent reminder of the unremitting, searing crises of those years ... Boyle is skilled at setting events in their particular context, although occasionally, as in the throat-clearing opening 60 pages on the years before 1960, he overdoes it. What makes the book particularly effective is the author’s inclusion of the lives and situations of ordinary Americans; Boyle’s memorable character sketches capture the hard realities and significant changes that occurred during that time. The author is also commendably balanced in his assessments; it’s difficult to discern his partialities. Ultimately, this is a standout example of narrative analytical history. A brilliantly achieved history of some unusually fraught years of American history.
... [an] insightful study ... 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 ... The result is a skillful encapsulation of an era that brought to a boil conflicts still tormenting American society today.