John Morton Blum, Years of Discord, 1961-1974
List: 20th Century.
Subjects: Civil Rights, Counterculture, Foreign Relations, Cold War, Vietnam.

John Morton Blum's Years of Discord provides an altogether readable summary of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. "Between the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon," it argues, "much of the political debate in the United States arose over questions of whether and how to use the federal government." (476.) According to Blum, while Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (as well as the Warren Court) found ways to use federal power to facilitate justice, fight inequality, protect the environment, and influence the economy during this time, these Presidents also gradually exceeded the mandate of their authority in the realm of foreign policy, culminating in Vietnam and Cambodia. As you might expect, this tension over the proper limits and potential abuse of federal power came to a head with the experience of Watergate.

While excellent in its coverage of the political arena, Blum's book devotes almost no time to cultural aspects of the period (and, when he does, I think he makes some very questionable assertions - to take just one example, where are the "obvious...anti-American connotations" in Bob Dylan's Desolation Row? (p. 273) How would one reconcile the assertion of anti-Americanism against Dylan's Vietnam-era exploration of American folklore, John Wesley Harding?) And, for in-depth coverage of civil rights, Vietnam, the counterculture, Watergate, feminism, or other developments of the Sixties and early Seventies, it's probably more instructive to head elsewhere. But for a concise synthesis of the period, as well as for an incisive look at the daily workings of the three Presidents' respective administrations, Blum's book fits the bill quite nicely.

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