FOR THE HELL OF IT by Jonah Raskin

FOR THE HELL OF IT

The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An insightful biography that paints provocateur extraordinaire Abbie Hoffman as the paradigm of the 1960s. Raskin (Communication Studies/Sonoma State Univ.), a longtime confederate of Hoffman's, writes against a handicap: His obligation as a biographer is to make sense of Hoffman's life, but Hoffman's genius was in creative nonsense, in thumbing his nose (and other parts of his anatomy) at just such attempts at intellectualization. Indeed, descriptions of Abbot Howard Hoffman's upbringing in a middle-class Jewish household in Worcester, Mass., and his early attempts at family and career seem so out of sync with his later, radicalized persona, that readers new to Hoffman might wonder why such a boringly normal guy deserves a serious academic biography. But Raskin, wisely, does not attempt here to capture the essence of Hoffman's antiestablishment theatrics. Instead, the author presents Hoffman as the quintessential 1960s figure: ``The arc of his biography intersected with the trajectory of history.'' Hoffman understood better than most leftists that America had entered a media age where linear ``thoughts were out; icons and images were in,'' and he knew what outrageous forms would get the most coverage in the media--such as throwing dollar bills onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Ö la Jesus and the money changers at the Temple. Hoffman, in his ability to call attention to America's injustices and discontents, embodied the triumphs of the '60s. And then, Raskin argues, his 1989 suicide, at age 52, epitomized its failures. Madison Avenue coopted the movement's symbols, and ``radicals and hippies . . . fell into the ranks of respectability.'' The cultural, generational, nonideological revolution waged by Hoffman and his fellow Yippies simply could not be sustained outside the context of the 1960s. Raskin's Hoffman is as flawed and compelling, brilliant and obtuse as the America against which he protested. Raskin puts Hoffman into his American context and offers fascinating insight into both. (25 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-520-20575-8
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1996