A compendium-style history of the 1960s that searches for obscure facts and convergences from that tumultuous decade.
Chicago-based writer Wright continues his What They Didn’t Teach You series (. . . About the Wild West, 2000, etc.) by looking for commonalities among the diverse figures and movements of the ’60s. He begins shrewdly by assessing the “sleepy” America of the ’50s, finding that, in fact, major sources of future foment originated there (e.g., the civil-rights movement, trouble in Indochina and Cuba, and rock’n’roll). John Kennedy’s slim 1960 victory over Nixon seems a precursor to the decade’s prominent liberalism: JFK appointed a black astronaut and sometimes met with reporters in his boxer shorts. While Wright does not delve deeply into popular conspiracy theories regarding the killings of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., he acknowledges that these tragedies, and the violence brought to bear on civil-rights workers like Medgar Evers and against antiwar protesters, hardened the positions of everyone concerned, as evinced by police violence against Yippie provocateurs at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and by radical-left bombing campaigns. Although the author bemusedly depicts the wacky excesses of “Baby Boomer” youth, he ignores how their self-indulgence ushered in a 30-year “backlash” of American conservatism. Like many commentators, Wright is left wondering about the big picture: “The sixties were Highway 80, between Selma and Montgomery. Sit-ins at Berkeley and Columbia. Fighting in Da Nang . . . the burning cities of Newark and Detroit.” He’s a colorful writer and adept researcher, but this volume lacks the spark of his earlier, more historically rooted works. And many of the stories herein, such as that of the revered Haight-Ashbury scene, have had their drama diluted over and over by now.
Solely for neophytes of the “long, strange trip.”