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Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the…

Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American… (2017)

by Lawrence O'Donnell

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I do not ordinarily read books authored by "talking heads" who host show on cable TV networks. However this was a well researched and well-written book about the 1968 presidential election. Given that I lived during this time, I was very intrigued by what I would learn and what I had forgotten from events that took place when I was 16 years old.

O'Donnell brought back many of my memories of the street violence during the Democratic National Convention. I also remember my total devastation when finding out that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in June 1968 after his victory in the California primary. I also remember my relief when Lyndon Johnson declined to run for another presidential term. 1968 was the time when I became extremely interested in politics. I remember how important it was from my personal standpoint and from the country's in our getting out of the Vietnam War.

This book is also a homage by O'Donnell to Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy decided to take on Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party in order to stop the Vietnam War. There is also a villain in the book. The villain is Richard Nixon who was willing to undermine Pres. Johnson's peace efforts so that he would be elected President.

The narrative of this book is extremely compelling. This may have been the most consequential year of my life and maybe in the history of the United States. Much of our poisonous politics can be traced back to 1968 due to Richard Nixon and George Wallace. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in our history and our politics. ( )
  writemoves | Jun 17, 2019 |
Playing with Fire far exceeded my expectations. I grew up close enough to the 1960s that I have never had a burning desire to study the history of the 1960s. As all good books do, this one taught me that I didn't know what I don't know. In particular, the idea that in my lifetime there was a liberal wing of the GOP stunned me. While I understand Democrats were the party of racism in previous decades, I grew up associating the GOP with dog-whistle politics and race-baiting. I also grew up with a GOP hostile to the poor, women's reproductive freedom, hating government, and promoting trickle-down economics. I always thought the socially liberal GOP governors of my home state were an aberration. There is a great deal of detail in this book but O'Donnell really keeps it all moving along and, for the most part, riveting. ( )
  KateSavage | Mar 29, 2019 |
Playing with Fire by Lawrence O'Donnell is an excellent, comprehensive view of the 1968 presidential election. Thru short chapters, Mr. O'Donnell described what was occurring in the different campaigns (or non-campaigns) from late 1967 through the election, going from one candidate or party to the other. All of the politicians including President Johnson, the candidates, and their campaign managers come through negatively in some aspects of the campaigns. Of course Mr. O'Donnell examined the violence which occurred during that year including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the bloody riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence later determined was a "police riot" (p. 420). Throughout the account, Mr. O'Donnell made evaluations, and pointed out what is still a problem. He showed that some features which Trump used in his 2016 campaign George Wallace had used in 1968. In the Epilogue, Mr. O'Donnell described what the major characters did later in life -- including who continued in politics, who went to jail, etc. At the end of the book, Mr. O'Donnell posed a number of "what if" questions, and suggested what might have happened under different conditions. The author concluded that Eugene McCarthy and the people for peace won since the war and draft ended by the mid 1970s. ( )
  sallylou61 | Sep 28, 2018 |
I as not eager to read this book for some reason but I learned quite a bit about the 1968 campaign during which I was a low level but enthusiastic "Clean for Gene" kid. The negotiating among the candidates and between several of them and LBJ offered new windows into the government and, for me, the reasons I graduated from the anti-war movement into diplomacy, which seemed the only sane way to deal with the Cold War and its nuclear arsenals and Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine. I wasn't surprised to read about Nixon's treasonous and successful effort to derail peace talks but only because I had followed this story when it first broke a year or two ago. Finally, as someone who was active in the anti-war movement, I was pleasantly surprised that O'Donnell credits the anti-war movement with forcing our government to finally leave Vietnam. It's rare that a mainstream figure credits peace activists with their successes. ( )
  nmele | Aug 29, 2018 |
This is an intense political history, focused on the events of the 1968 US Presidential election. It covers a dozen people, from candidates to the sitting President. There are two assassinations, multiple protest, and one terrible, unwinnable war. Not exactly light reading. But O'Donnell weaves the stories together into a compelling account. I'm very glad I read it, even though it took me a long time.

Full review at TheBibliophage.com. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Apr 10, 2018 |
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The celebrated host of MSNBC's The Last Word presents an account of the 1968 presidential election to evaluate its lasting influence on American politics and the Democratic party, exploring the pivotal roles of RFK and McCarthy, two high-profile assassinations and the Chicago riots.… (more)

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