Book Review: ‘1956: The World in Revolt’ by Simon Hall

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a momentous year comes to a close, we look, inevitably, to the future. However, in order to help us on our way, we must also look to the past. If 2016 was the year of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, then sixty years ago was the year of the Montgomery bus boycott, the Suez Crisis, and, most significantly, the Hungarian Revolution. A vivid and highly accessible account of the year is provided by Simon Hall in his book, “1956: The World in Revolt,” recently published in the U.S. by Pegasus Books.

"1956: The World in Revolt" by Simon Hall

“1956: The World in Revolt” by Simon Hall

Hall’s book is very readable with a novel’s narrative flow. The interconnections Hall makes are quite impressive as he makes a case for brewing unrest across the globe in the pivotal year of 1956. The seeds of unrest are sown everywhere none the least of which is among the youth. Today, you hear the classic, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets, and it might come across as a soothing lullaby. Well, relatively speaking. In fact, there’s an undeniable power to it. And, in 1956, it had the power of a cultural sonic boom. There were teenagers dancing in the streets after viewing the rock ‘n’ roll movie featuring Bill Haley and his band. And, around the globe, the status quo was being confronted at all levels. Enough to give those in power plenty of pause.

Hall tackles 1956 in fairly chronological order. We begin with a young and untested Martin Luther King Jr. as he must confront the firebombing on his own home, with his wife and children still inside. Remarkably, no one was hurt from the blast. And thanks to King’s moving address to the crowds gathered, the rest of that cold January night remained calm.

Among the leading news stories that year, the focus was on Egypt, the Suez Canal Crisis, and Egypt’s charismatic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The greatest undermining of Soviet expansion after World War II was the Hungarian Revolution.

And the end of 1956 would see one more significant sign of things to come: Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries proceeded upon their shaky but steadfast push against the Batista regime.

Simon Hall’s book is the first definitive account of the year 1956. Hall’s account presents 1956 as far more than an eventful year but as a source of much significant change that was still ahead. From Poland to South Africa, the call for freedom was loud and clear. Around the world the responses came from world leaders: Eisenhower in the US. Khrushchev in the USSR. Anthony Eden in what was left of the crumbling British Empire. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser spurred an Israeli-British-French attack that nearly brought in the Soviets–an attack that would ultimately fail. Hall captures it all in a riveting narrative always mindful of those not in power who were brave enough to shout the loudest.

“1956: The World in Revolt” is a 509-page hardcover, published by Pegasus Books. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Pegasus Books right here.

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6 Comments

Filed under 1950s, Book Reviews, Books, History, Pegasus Books

6 responses to “Book Review: ‘1956: The World in Revolt’ by Simon Hall

  1. I’m not much of a historical non-fiction reader, but I am glad you shared this. Very informative! This could be a great read for a history-buff.

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  2. 1956 – a momentous year indeed. It’s also the year I was born, so personally quite momentous too 🙂 Post-war food rationing was still in place in the UK but we were also fortunate to have the National Health Service newly in place.

    A lot of the events that you mention as being recalled in this book continued to play out as I grew up.

    I can remember my dad explaining things like Martin Luther King’s mission and his assassination to me in terms I could just about understand.

    I remember too, when at primary school, we often welcomed new members to the class – children of diplomats and other ex-pat workers who had been born in and spent their early lives in areas of Britain’s then crumbling empire – and who now had to start life again in the UK.

    My contemporaries and I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. We practised safety drills for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Precautions weren’t exactly high tec. We were told that if the siren sounded we should get under our desks if at school, and if out in the open we should pull our coats over us and crouch down.

    And reading your review reminds me that a lot of those sixty year old events and issues are still playing out today although I like to think and hope that humanity has advanced in some respects despite 2016’s own momentous and in many ways terrible events.

    I have added this book to my reading list, Henry. Thanks for flagging it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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