'The War for America's Soul'?

By David Luhrssen
Shepherd Express

The Contest (Michael Schumacher)The basic facts of 1968 roll out like a drumbeat: The Tet Offensive, Lyndon Johnson’s withdrawal from the presidential race, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago Democratic Convention, the election of Richard Nixon. And the beat goes on. 1968 was, in that overworked term, a watershed year. America’s stalemate in Vietnam and descent into domestic upheaval lifted Nixon into the White House on a wave of white middle-class resentment that continues to roil the country 50 years on.

With all that in mind, there is nothing hyperbolic in the title of Michael Schumacher’s The Contest: The 1968 Election and the War for America’s Soul (University of Minnesota Press). In the past, the Milwaukee native (he’s lived for many years in Kenosha) has written biographies of Allen Ginsberg, Eric Clapton and Francis Ford Coppola. The Contest is his first full-blown history of a historical period and in a sense, it’s also an emotional and political autobiography of a formative year in the author’s life.

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