How did humanity arrive at the point where we could buy diapers from the palm of our hand? When did it become normal for weapons of mass destruction to loom over conversations between nations? Why do Presidential candidates disagree so strongly on the environment and the rights of disadvantaged people?

Harlan Lebo provides some answers to these questions in his book 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) through focusing on 100 days of one of the most tumultuous years of American history. Lebo details four key events: the Apollo 11 mission, the still-sickening Manson murders, the Woodstock Festival of Music and the UCLA and Stanford computer experiment. Each is painstakingly crafted using eye-witness accounts.

Just as Neil Armstrong rocketed towards the moon in July of 1969, Lebo boldly bursts through the past into the present. The space race between the Soviet Union and the United States forever marked the moon. Equally important, the bitter competition would give birth to new research centers across the country.

August showcased both the ideal and malignant sides of human nature. Hippies and free lovers descended upon Bethel, NY for the Woodstock Music Festival. However, these partiers danced in the shadow of tragedy. Only a week before, Charles Manson and his cult had murdered five people. Woodstock collectively offered redemption, as if the 400,000 voices singing in unison could atone for violence and societal strife. While the waning days of the 1960s are known today for their immense coexistence and sharing of resources, they were simultaneously a time of unexpected terror.

In the final stage of the 100-day journey, the reader is welcomed to UCLA for a seemingly mundane computer science experiment. Charley Kline at UCLA and Bill DuVall at Stanford would make a connection that night which has had the largest impact on the human condition in the 21st century. In many respects, the simple transmission of the letters “L” to “O” from Kline’s to DuVall’s keyboard proved that independently-operated computers could connect through a network which eventually became known as the internet. This was the first step in a series of iterations which gradually brought companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter into the world. Along with this unprecedented level of communication between distant people came anxieties surrounding personal privacy in a world dominated by data-sharing.

As Harlan Lebo leads the reader through these 100 days, the reader comes to recognize that the many conveniences and ills which impact us today can be traced back to those four historic moments.

100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America is now available for purchase.


Photo Credit: Dave Teel

Harlan Lebo is an author and senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.

Lebo’s current book — 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America — was published by Rowman & Littlefield in June 2019.

Lebo writes about cultural history, science, the humanities, society, and the impact of digital technology.

Lebo has written six books for Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, Rowman & Littlefield, and private publication. Four of his books explore the creation of a trio of America’s finest films: The Godfather Legacy; Casablanca – Behind the Scenes; and two books on Citizen Kane: a coffee-table project for the film’s 50th anniversary in 1991, and a comprehensive book for the 75th anniversary titled Citizen Kane – A Filmmaker’s Journey, published in 2016. His book on 50 years of vision science at UCLA was published in 2017.