Harvard Book Store welcomes the host of MSNBC's The Last Word LAWRENCE O'DONNELL for a discussion of his latest book, Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. This event is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities.
About Playing with Fire
The 1968 U.S. Presidential election was the young Lawrence O’Donnell’s political awakening, and in the decades since it has remained one of his abiding fascinations. For years he has deployed one of America’s shrewdest political minds to understanding its dynamics, not just because it is fascinating in itself, but because in it is contained the essence of what makes America different, and how we got to where we are now. Playing With Fire represents O’Donnell’s master class in American electioneering, embedded in the epic human drama of a system, and a country, coming apart at the seams in real time.
Nothing went according to the script. LBJ was confident he'd dispatch with Nixon, the GOP frontrunner; Johnson's greatest fear and real nemesis was RFK. But Kennedy and his team, despite their loathing of the president, weren't prepared to challenge their own party’s incumbent. Then, out of nowhere, Eugene McCarthy shocked everyone with his disloyalty and threw his hat in the ring to run against the president and the Vietnam War. A revolution seemed to be taking place, and LBJ, humiliated and bitter, began to look mortal. Then RFK leapt in, LBJ dropped out, and all hell broke loose. Two assassinations and a week of bloody riots in Chicago around the Democratic Convention later, and the old Democratic Party was a smoldering ruin, and, in the last triumph of old machine politics, Hubert Humphrey stood alone in the wreckage.
Suddenly Nixon was the frontrunner, having masterfully maintained a smooth façade behind which he feverishly held his party’s right and left wings in the fold, through a succession of ruthless maneuvers to see off George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, and the great outside threat to his new Southern Strategy, the arch-segregationist George Wallace. But then, amazingly, Humphrey began to close, and so, in late October, Nixon pulled off one of the greatest dirty tricks in American political history, an act that may well meet the statutory definition of treason. The tone was set for Watergate and all else that was to follow, all the way through to today.
"In this delightful combination of vivid storytelling and sharp political insight, Lawrence O'Donnell brings to life the most fascinating election of modern times. His book is filled with memorable anecdotes and colorful characters, from Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon to Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. But beneath the rollicking tale is a truly profound historical truth: how the Sixties still reverberates in our nation's soul." —Walter Isaacson
“From the anguish of the Vietnam War to the dazzling minds and feverish ambitions of the 1968 presidential election, Playing with Fire not only tells the story of one extraordinary year in American politics, it brings back to vivid, riveting life the men and women who changed the course of history.” ―Candice Millard, author of Hero of the Empire
“If ever there was a bygone presidential campaign crying out for the Game Change treatment, it’s the one that convulsed America in 1968—and Lawrence O’Donnell delivers the goods in Playing With Fire. Wars at home and abroad, secret plots and assassinations, riots in the streets and punches thrown on the convention floor, poets and protestors, movie stars and Kennedys, hippies, Yippies, and Black Panthers: 1968 had it all and then some. And now it has a chronicler in O’Donnell who brings coherence to the chaos, rendering the story with the crackle and flow of a dynamite Hollywood screenplay.” ―John Heilemann
Co-Sponsored by Mass Humanities
Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.
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