"THE SIXTIES: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, 1958-1974" by Arthur Marwick

"THE SIXTIES: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, 1958-1974"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A scholarly, earnest, sometimes dense cultural history of the decade. English historian Marwick (Britain in Our Century, 1985, etc.) seems determined to rescue the 1960s, both from orthodox leftist historians (who view the era as an explosion of the youthful bourgeoisie) and from conservatives (who believe that it brought about the decline and fall of Western civilization). Marwick enumerates the period's cultural, artistic, and political achievements, which, he believes, really began in 1958 (the year big business headed full-tilt at the youth market, and the year popular music shifted to rock 'n' roll) and ended in 1974, when the oil crisis reached consumers around the world and set off a wave of conservative reaction. The author's viewpoint is European. Much of what he says will be unfamiliar to American readers (as, for instance, when he discusses the role of upper-crust English schools in shaping political radicalism). Much else, however, concerns common ground, especially when Marwick writes about music. He's also perceptive about the literature of the time and how it influenced other forms of expression. For example, he includes an interview with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who reminisces about the influence of Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel On the Road on British youth in the late 1950s. And Marwick has a lot to tell us about the student revolt in France and Italy of 1968 and 1969. Occasionally, he gets a little too pedantically encyclopedic for his own good, as in examining the miniskirt, which, ""almost always worn with tights, was a very popular, and even tenacious, fashion, being worn and argued over after the advent of hot pants . . . and then, in the classic fashion pattern of extreme innovation followed by extreme reaction, the maxiskirt, which reached to the ankles."" Even then, however, he offers a fine resource for students of the era. And for those who remember Marcuse, McLuhan, and Marx fondly, Marwick's tome will offer a stimulating stroll down memory lane.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
Page count: 750pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.