Kerouac biographer and veteran anthologist Charters (The Portable Beat Reader, not reviewed, etc.) successfully conveys the atmosphere of the 1960s for those who lived through it, and those who did not. The four-page preface clearly explains her choices. Charters, who came of age during the 1960s, concedes that some of the pieces are very personal, meant to reflect her intense emotional and intellectual experiences. The selections and omissions are determined to some extent by the ten topical sections: civil rights, war resistance, free speech, the counterculture (largely in music as rendered here), mind-altering drugs, Beat literature, African-American arts, the women's movement (especially the sexual revolution), environmental protection, and “elegies” (portraits of ten people who died during the decade). Charters (English/Univ. of Connecticut) gives short shrift to innovative pieces of narrative journalism—Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, Truman Capote are all excluded—but otherwise her choices seem unarguable. The introductions to each selection provide pertinent context, which is especially important because many of the selections are excerpts from books.
A 25-page chronology of the decade will prove useful for those born after 1960, as well as offering forgotten tidbits for middle-aged and elderly readers.