A chronicle of the counterculture of the 1960s, marked simultaneously by crystalline scholarship and utter distaste for its subject matter.
Heineman (God Is a Conservative, not reviewed) writes in a formal, lucid manner and offers a thorough account of the cultural watersheds and popular movements we think of as “the ’60s.” As his title indicates, he tries to address the human involvement (and costs) of such phenomena as the SDS and the Black Panthers and, to this end, he’s done exhaustive primary-source research and offers much information (though arguably, little new information) on Mark Rudd, Abbie Hoffman, et al. The result is a clear chronological overview of the relationship between particular radical groups and larger social dynamics, focusing on flashpoints like the escalation of the Vietnam War (a conflict fought, Heineman notes, by impoverished youth who did not enjoy the student deferments of their more privileged peers) and the decline of LBJ’s “War on Poverty.” And yet the author undermines his own narrative’s sober qualities with a consistent undercurrent of paranoid sensationalism, exemplified by his repeated references to “red diaper babies” and his frequent reduction of all 1960s-era radical pursuits to the common goals of interracial sex and drug abuse. Although Heineman pursues a powerful thesis (viz., how New Left excess doomed the post–New Deal Democratic alliances), his insistence on discrediting the era’s youth culture allows no consideration of the popular anguish caused by Vietnam and Southern civil-rights strife. A measured hysteria (if such a thing exists) pervades this work, with avuncular outrage implied toward any reader who has ever taken an enjoyable toke or been seduced by cultures beyond the mainstream. Such a stance would seem hilariously dated were the scholarship on display not so solid, and the authorial hurt so sincere.
A house divided against itself: Heineman yokes the impressive force of his scholarship to a wobbly cart of partisan invective.