1959: The Year That Changed Everything

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How Significant Will 2009 Appear in the Lens of History? Jeff Greenfield Focuses on How Another Iconic Year Played Out.

Now, consider the year 1959. Could that really be a year that changed everything?

The last year of the fifties, a decade whose image is all but etched in stone: men in grey flannel suits, Stepford wives in suburban complacency, a veritable white bread sandwich of a time?

Journalist Fred Kaplan thinks 1959 is exactly that kind of landmark year.

Kaplan's argument ranges far and wide. From science and technology come the birth of the microchip, without which "We couldn't have digital telephones," Kaplan said. "We couldn't have satellites. I mean, there's almost nothing that we have in everyday life that doesn't have microchips in it."

1959 also brought the first steps toward the birth control pill.

In the arts, says Kaplan, 1959 brought upheaval upon upheaval: The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in New York (left), whose very architecture challenged its neighbors . . . and whose collection was the first wholly devoted to abstract art.

In music, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, were breaking the chord structure of older jazz.

And censorship was dealt a fatal blow when a court permitted the distribution of the openly sexual "Lady Chatterly's Lover."

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