A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
From the National Book Award winner, a masterful history of the decade whose conflicts shattered America’s postwar order and divide us still.
On July 4, 1961, the rising middle-class families of a Chicago neighborhood gathered before their flag-bedecked houses, a confident vision of the American Dream. That vision was shattered over the following decade, its inequities at home and arrogance abroad challenged by powerful civil rights and antiwar movements. Assassinations, social violence, and the blowback of a “silent majority” shredded the American fabric.
Covering the late 1950s through the early 1970s, The Shattering focuses on the period’s fierce conflicts over race, sex, and war. The civil rights movement develops from the grassroots activism of Montgomery and the sit-ins, through the violence of Birmingham and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the frustrations of King’s Chicago campaign, a rising Black nationalism, and the Nixon-era politics of busing and the Supreme Court. The Vietnam war unfolds as Cold War policy, high-stakes politics buffeted by powerful popular movements, and searing in-country experience. Americans’ challenges to government regulation of sexuality yield landmark decisions on privacy rights, gay rights, contraception, and abortion.
Kevin Boyle captures the inspiring and brutal events of this passionate time with a remarkable empathy that restores the humanity of those making this history. Often they are everyday people like Elizabeth Eckford, enduring a hostile crowd outside her newly integrated high school in Little Rock, or Estelle Griswold, welcoming her arrest for dispensing birth control information in a Connecticut town. Political leaders also emerge in revealing detail: we track Richard Nixon’s inheritances from Eisenhower and his debt to George Wallace, who forged a message of racism mixed with blue-collar grievance that Nixon imported into Republicanism.
The Shattering illuminates currents that still run through our politics. It is a history for our times.