By LaKeshia N. Myers
As promised, I am sharing reviews of some of the books I’m reading this summer. As a historian, I took interest in a book called The Shattering. The Shattering chronicles the multilayered and multifaceted growing pains of modern America. Through humor, contextualization, and historical anecdotes, Kevin Boyle weaves the story of a once idealistic, patriotic, America who loses her innocence. Utilizing the seemingly insignificant personal stories of individuals, he places them expertly within the backdrop of the American timeline. Stories of immigrants, people of color, and women, whose lives envelope the changing tides of society throughout the generations.
I appreciated the way in which he introduced the book by alerting the reader that his book was about the “cracking up” of traditional American idealism. “They were husbands and wives in a country where 72 percent of adults were married, the younger couples raising their kids together when 88 percent of parents with school age children lived with their spouses. Every one of them was white, as were 85 percent of Americans. And they were to a striking degree safe and secure. Then the sixties cracked their nation open. What follows is a history of the crack-up” (Boyle, 2021). The notion of “safety” is what struck me most. As long as things remained in place for most white Americans, life was okay. But during the sixties, marginalized groups began openly challenging the status quo and their government’s response to that status quo.
One aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the interplay between people and policy. Boyle has an excellent method is showing readers how public policy decision impacted everyday people. For example, when discussing the seemingly abstract phenomenon of redlining, Boyle states, “wherever the defense dollars went, the housing market followed. Between the summer of 1950 and December 1952, developers built almost 3.5 million new homes. About 80 percent of them went up in the suburbs. Almost all of them were sold to whites” (Boyle, 2021). Boyle goes on to explain that although the supreme court invalidated legal restrictions developers had used to block African Americans from buying properties, suburban real estate brokers, politicians, and bankers used other tactics to keep Black residents out of new development. For those who dared defy the unwritten rules; they were intimidated. Boyle points to the story of the Clark family who moved to Cicero as a perfect example.The many backstories that led to the Vietnam conflict were interesting. The chapter “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” gave an interesting viewpoint from policymakers and anti-war activists. What struck me as interesting was the large role the media had in how the war was “sold” to the public in the beginning, but as the public learned more about the defense policy, the media became the war’s biggest enemy or sorts.
What I enjoyed most about the book was its inclusiveness. Boyle was intentional in his attempt to include all aspects of American society—race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. He told the story of America during the 1960s through the most diverse lens possible. This leads the reader to understand that much of the conflict that occurred during the period was a quest for all groups to be heard and be treated as “American”. The latter leaves the reader to answer what being an American means. In my opinion, I believe many of the conflicts we have today can point back to conflicts if the 1960s. This is due to policy as well as social changes. Many of the issues are just repackaged and repurposed topics that we have allowed to divide us.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was well written and meant to make the reader discern for themselves the merits of American ideology.