by Robert Wright

George Will calls Fred Kaplan’s book 1959: The Year Everything Changed “an intelligent book with a silly subtitle.” Well that’s better than the other way around! It’s true, though, that these “pivotal year” arguments are hard to operationalize. Is the proposition that, had the year not happened, our world would be radically different? Well, I’m guessing that, had the year not happened, the resulting gap in the space-time continuum might have led to our world not being here at all. Maybe the way to frame the question is as one of narrative economy: Does telling the story of a given year efficiently illuminate the contemporary world? Having not read the book, but knowing Fred’s work, I’m betting the answer to that question is yes. For me, at any rate, 1959 was crucial. I got a nice red tricycle… and the rest is history.    

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.