My mother did the index for the new book 1959: The Year Everything Changed and thought it was a bit lacking in purpose. The author gives his mission statement in the form of a Slate column and does a good job reminding us that the years just before “the Sixties” were indeed full of change and portent. He doesn’t get into why 1959 should be his focus, as opposed to 1958 or 1961 or any other year out of that batch. Maybe they also had some amazing did-you-know firsts and breakthroughs, maybe they didn’t; he doesn’t realize the question might be relevant.

He does spend a lot of energy explaining why we should care about this long-ago time of change and portent and breakthroughs. The reason is that it’s just like our current time of change, portent, etc. I find it discouraging that he would think the question was necessary, and discouraging that he would answer it the way he did. All in all, he provides a disincentive for checking out his book, especially since some of it appears to be about jazz.

The author’s name is Fred Kaplan and he covers defense issues for Slate. He screwed up very badly on Colin Powell’s UN speech but wrote some good columns explaining why the occupation of Iraq would probably be very difficult and not a good idea.