The Times They Are a-Changin'
February 8, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

In order to prepare a competitive examination, I've got to delve deep into North American counterculture history. What should I read ?

I need all sort of documents, analyses, frames of reference about this subject. Reflections upon the evolution of artistic forms, of ideas, of politics, of cultural, social and individual structures from the fifties to the seventies, in the U.S.A.

The theme of the examination revolves around the notions of Revolts and Utopias, and the only reference that is given is the Theodore Roszak' book, The Making of a Counter Culture.

That's a subject I feel naturally attracted to, so do not hesitate to point to all sort of references. If I don't read the books, watch the films, listen to the podcasts right now, I will do it eventually.
posted by nicolin to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century by Christine Stansell.
posted by pickypicky at 9:29 AM on February 8, 2011

Steal This Book
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson.
posted by tommasz at 9:35 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Commune, the movie.
posted by mareli at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
posted by doctor_negative at 9:40 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Google keywords like "syllabus" "graduate" "seminar" "US" "Canada" "counterculture" "history," and presumably "20th century."

Graduate syllabi will probably be more helpful than undergraduate ones. This is a popular topic and there will be a lot of syllabi out there. There are probably even undergraduate textbooks for sale on Amazon on this topic.

Or look in a standard college-level US history textbook. In either case, look carefully at the recommended reading and go from there.

I don't think that popular histories will help you very much, but I don't know what kind of exam you're preparing for.

To get North American suggestions, substitute Canada for US in my above suggestions.
posted by vincele at 9:46 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: For background and and understanding the mindset of the era:
- On the Road and Dharma Bums by Kerouac
- Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote is a very good first person view of the Diggers and the hippies and the aftermath of the 60's.
- Beat Zen Square Zen and Zen by Alan Watts
posted by doctor_negative at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: I would concur with vincele, that scholarly histories might give you more mileage than popular ones.

That said, you could do worse than to look at Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces (which delves into a lot of utopian thinking, revolutionary histories, and outright conspiracy theories while technically talking about music), since so much of American folk, and later rock, funk, etc., was bound up with the counterculture. If nothing else, it would be a useful counterpart to any more scholarly works which only look at specific movements rather than looking basically at everything simultaneously.

Also, how uniquely American are we looking at here? If you're focusing at all on the later 1960s, then ignoring the Situationists and the pan-European 1968 uprisings would be pointless (though I don't have anything specific to point to).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Revolution for the Hell of It, also written by Abbie Hoffman.

Also, I'd recommend Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids (it recently won the National Book Award) to get a sense of the artistic scene of the time. I found it illuminating.
posted by purpleclover at 9:56 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: 1968: The Year that Rocked the World by Mark Kurlanski.
posted by trip and a half at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: "The Conquest of Cool" - Thomas Frank
posted by rhizome at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2011

Ugh. Duh: Kurlansky.
posted by trip and a half at 10:01 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: The White Hand Society, by Peter Connors. A great look at the intersection of Tim Leary and Allen Ginsberg, and how psychedelics were introduced to the counter-culture.
posted by marcin_zissou at 10:26 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Look at newspapers too, like The Rat.
posted by mareli at 10:34 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: vincele is giving you the right approach. Though people are naturally suggesting their favorite primary sources and popular-culture documents for you here, you should instead be starting with the historians' benefit of hindsight and cumulative analysis before you begin to dig really deeply into period materials. For a starting point and a cultural and political framework, to help you pick out the landmarks in the period, you could hardly do better than Fredric Jameson's now-classic essay Periodizing the '60s.
posted by RogerB at 11:03 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: I just read "A Radical Line" and really enjoyed the storytelling nature of this non-fiction book. It gives an in depth and personal account of several peoples lives leading up to the violence of the late 1960's.
posted by lpalmerpaton at 11:08 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: The New Left Reader, ed. Carl Oglesby

Against the Grain: An Anthology of Dissent, Past and Present, ed. Frederick C. Giffin and Ronald D. Smith

The Feminist Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir, ed. Alice S. Rossi

Patterns of Anarchy: A Collection of Writings on the Anarchist Tradition, ed. Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry

I. F. Stone, In a Time of Torment: 1961-1967 (A Nonconformist History of Our Times)

Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd and People or Personnel and Like a Conquered Province (or, I suppose, The Paul Goodman Reader, which I don't happen to have)

Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (covers a much wider swathe of time and space, but is one of the most brilliant books on the subject ever written)

Martin Duberman, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community

Just some picks from the shelves of a North American who got his counterculture from the fifties to the seventies.
posted by languagehat at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks a lot. All of these suggestions are really appreciated and spot-on. I'm asking this question from France, so don't consider anything for granted. Things you could find pretty obvious might just be surprising to me. (I'd really like to have a lot of spare time now, and be able to read all those books). Keep'em coming.
posted by nicolin at 11:17 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: The 100% online archive of The Realist.
posted by Sallyfur at 11:30 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Along with Hell's Angels, I would recommend Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Much of Las Vegas is really a lament for the counterculture of the '60s, and Campaign Trail takes that further into the rise of Nixonian/Reaganite politics.

For something a little later than the '60s, I'd look at the rise of another counterculture with revolutionary and utopian elements: hardcore punk. Start with Penelope Spheeris' documentary Decline of Western Civilization.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:55 PM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Try and get hold any copies of Ramparts magazine also investigate the underground comic scene.
To get away from the white majority check out Bobby Seale - Sieze the Time.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City lights bookshop fame first published A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems in 1958. (review).
The beats set the foundations for what came later so Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac should be checked out as many others. Wikipedia has a good page on the Beat Generation.
Here is a list of the US underground press.
posted by adamvasco at 1:43 PM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Although it doesn't cover the comprehensive history of any counter-culture in particular, Bourdieu's seminal sociological work La Distinction established out of whole cloth the language and theory that has informed every subsequent academic treatment of counter-culture since.

And since people have already hit up the 60's and 70's pretty thoroughly, I'll just also recommend some books on late-20th century countercultures: Please Kill Me <>
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, and Simon Reynold's Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, which admittedly is more preoccupied with British post-punk than American, but still of some use.
posted by patnasty at 4:05 PM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Oh, and if you want to get contemporary, definitely check out n+1's What Was the Hipster: A Sociological Investigation.
posted by patnasty at 4:07 PM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Another avenue for exploring counterculture would be the pro-labor, pro-union singer songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, or Utah Phillips. Specifically, I'd recommend listening to Utah Phillips' Starlight on the Rails, which features interesting spoken introductions the songs by Utah himself.
posted by rube goldberg at 10:56 PM on February 8, 2011

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