Books about the US in the 60s?
March 22, 2006 4:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good non-fiction books about the US in the 60s. I'm interested in the social upheavals that occurred then and I'm particularly interested in the anti-war protests and things like the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
posted by pombe to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I thought Mark Kurlansky's 1968: The Year that Rocked the World was a pretty good read. Lots of stuff on the protests and the Convention.
posted by trip and a half at 5:05 PM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Set in Vietnam, extremely insightful about the psychology and politics of the Vietnam war from the bottom up: Dispatches
posted by Rumple at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2006

The Conquest of Cool is not only required reading on the 60s, but also does a good job of summarizing the other work out there.

To the reader reviewers who say he lacks focus on the specific social and political aspects of the counter-culture movement(s): Yes he does, intentionally. This is a book about the producers of culture in America in the 60s, and take as a priori givens not only the existance of a counter-culture movement but its aesthetics and politics as well. You can't write a book about EVERYTHING, after all, and the social history of the counter-culture movement had, when Frank was writing, already been written dozens of times, and by now its probably in the hundreds.

Regardless, its a fantastic book that I only recently (much to my embarassment) actually read.
posted by ChasFile at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2006

Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago.Taylor Branch's series on Martin Luther King Jr.; Kirkpatrick Sale's book on the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society); The Free Speech Movement by Cohen; books on feminism (e.g. Shulamith Firestone's Dialectic of Sex); many books on the psychedelic revolution. Just a few that come quickly to mind. There are 1000 books, depending on where you want to go.
posted by madstop1 at 5:19 PM on March 22, 2006

Ted White's series "Making of the President" (1960-72) was quite esteemed at the time; Amazon link for the 1968 edition here. I remember not being overly impressed at the time; he had a tendency to romanticize his victors. So Nixon, uncharitably covered in the '60 and '64 books, abruptly came out much better in '68. Perhaps best appreciated as political overviews short of dispassion, but White's stature did grant him the advantage of much inside access.
posted by rob511 at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2006

Democracy is in the Streets by James Miller..
posted by trey at 5:30 PM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Storming Heaven: Lsd and the American Dream
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 5:41 PM on March 22, 2006

I really liked The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Kunen.
posted by kimdog at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2006

Lewis Yablonsky's The Hippie Trip is pretty amusing. It's not history, but more a first-person narrative account of the hippie movement in California, c. 1967, written by a Cal. State Sociology professor.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:55 PM on March 22, 2006

A good history book is The Movement and the Sixties, by Terry Anderson.
posted by number9dream at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2006

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. I'm reading it right now, actually. Although it's not the non-fictioniest book in the world.
posted by hermitosis at 6:06 PM on March 22, 2006

Todd Gitlin's The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage would fit the bill.

See also From Camelot to Kent State: The Sixties in the Words of Those Who Lived It, ed. Joan Morrison; an oral history.
posted by scratch at 6:15 PM on March 22, 2006

God's Long Summer, by Charles Marsh.

I had to read it for a comparative religion course. But, if you squelch the author's 'Christianity' angle, he has compiled an awesome non-fiction account of the events surrounding the DNC convention, Southern voter-registration efforts, etc.
posted by Yeomans at 6:16 PM on March 22, 2006

Mm, I was about to say "The Strawberry Statement," but kimdog beat me to it. ;)

But we mustn't forget to mention Tom Wolfe's "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers," "The Pump House Gang," and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." That's 100 percent New Journalism, folks.

Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" (1957), Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1971), and Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" (1973) are all partially fictionalized, but they're autobiographical and catch the spirit leading up to and away from the '60s (particularly that of sexual revolution), and as such could also be useful.

And while Joan Didion's "The White Album" was published in 1979, pretty much all the essays are about the '60s.
posted by limeonaire at 6:29 PM on March 22, 2006

it's probably not what you're seeking, but perhaps worth your consideration nevertheless... i have always thought that steinbeck's travels with charley was an thoroughly interesting first-hand account of america in the 1960s.
posted by RockyChrysler at 6:30 PM on March 22, 2006

I think the best book on the civil rights movement, even better than Branch's series on Dr. King, is Fire In the Streets by Milton Viorst. The bad news is that it's out of print. The good news is that you can buy a used copy for about two dollars on Amazon.
posted by cribcage at 7:21 PM on March 22, 2006

My uncle wrote a book about the Sixties that I read and thought was really good. It talks about the Digger movement in San Francisco as well as the Free Family/commune movement and political activism surrounding the Vietnam war and the election goings-on all from a first person, well-written perspective. It's called Sleeping Where I Fall, you can read more about it on that page.
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Taylor Branch's three-volume "America in the King Years" is a seminal work: Parting the Waters: 1954-63, Pillar of Fire: 1963-65, and At Canaan's Edge: 1965-68. The scope of the work includes far more than just the civil rights movement, though that is central to Branch's story. Read through the Amazon review/introduction to At Canaan's Edge for an idea of what's covered.
posted by arco at 8:29 PM on March 22, 2006

I really like Kurlansky's 1968 (published 2005); there is a lot of interesting back-ground material. I would also recommend Ferlinghetti's Love in the Days of Rage and Bertolucci's The Dreamers.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:40 PM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Oooh, my favorite (non-fiction) genre! I'll definitely 5th or 6th Kurlansky's 1968, which stands out to me since it *doesn't* strictly focus on the movement in the US. You get a lot of coverage of action in France and Eastern Europe (which eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Bloc....regardless of what the Reaganites say) that a lot of books around there don't cover. Plus, you can just tell it's *the* book he's always wanted to right. Quite good.

Three books that have yet to be mentioned:

Abbie Hoffman's autobiography, which is titled Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (and oddly, it happened)

Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer in '68.

David Mariness wrote a book titled They Marched Into Sunlight which is very good as well (won the Pulitzer in 2004). It doesn't focus strictly on goings-on in the US -- it's got three (for lack of a better word) 'plotlines'. One part focuses on a certain battalion in Vietnam. One focuses on the movement at the Univ. of Wisconsin in Madison. The final focuses on dealing in the White House.

Thanks for asking this, though. I look forward to digging into some of the other books recommended here.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2006

Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor's Wife isn't that great when judged by the standards of journalism and literature and whatnot, but it's about the '60s (well, it's about the end-of-the-'60s, which stretched well into the '70s), and you'll know after a few pages whether you'll enjoy it.
posted by box at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2006

I would always pair The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test with Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson. And although definitely fiction, The Drifters by Michner might fit.
posted by Rash at 9:41 PM on March 22, 2006

1. Can't recommend it highly enough: Uncovering the Sixties: The life and times of the underground press, by Abe Peck, who was active in the radical media movement at the time. It's a readable, detailed, personal look at the ups and downs of the anti-war press that doesn't shy away from more embarrassing episodes. Full of revealing anecdotes.

2. Strong second for Abbie Hoffman's Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, a funny/sad memoir from a key member of the Chicago 8. Take it with the standard grain of salt for all autobiography, but I found it surprisingly thoughtful, inspirational and mind-expanding.

3. Mark Baker's Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There drastically altered the way I thought about the 60s anti-war movement.
posted by mediareport at 10:02 PM on March 22, 2006

Fug Ed Sanders' The Family is a fascinating take on Manson and acid fascism (look for the early edition with the redacted chapter on the Process Church) from a hip perspective that's far enough from Bugliosi's reality to make it seem like a whole 'nother crime spree than the one in Helter Skelter.
posted by Scram at 12:14 AM on March 23, 2006

Second Todd Gitlin's The Sixties.

And for an incredibly detailed look at how America got dragged into The Vietnam War check out The Best And The Brightest by David Halberstam.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:06 AM on March 23, 2006

I'm surprised people mentioned H.S. Thompson and didn't mention the book that would help you the most, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72. It will give you a view of politics in '72 and he has many stories there about his experiences with politics in the late 60's as well. It is a great read too.
posted by JJ86 at 6:36 AM on March 23, 2006

Response by poster: Awesome! Thanks for all the comments - I'm going to print this out and head to the library this afternoon.
posted by pombe at 7:25 AM on March 23, 2006

I know I am a little late coming into this, but I had to comment, since I saw that no one had mentioned Rads, which I consider to be one of the best books about 60's radicalism. (I went to college at UW-Madison, though, and perhaps I am biased)
posted by msali at 9:54 AM on March 23, 2006

One book that hasn't been mentioned yet: Murray Kempton, Rebellions, Perversities and Main Events, which includes a piece on the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Someone has recommended Joan Didion, but no one seems to have mentioned Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her classic collection of essays about Sixties California.
posted by verstegan at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2006

Some books that haven't been mentioined:
Ball Four, by Jim Bouton;
The Whole World Is Watching, by Todd Gitlin;
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig;
The Selling of the President, by Joe McGinniss;
The barnyard epithet and other obscenities;: Notes on the Chicago conspiracy trial, by J. Anthony Lukas;
Not a book, but, "The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick," by J. Anthony Lukas;
Friendly Fire, by C. D. B Bryan;
My Soul Is Rested : Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered, by Howell Raines;
Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story, by Coates Redmon;
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe;
and Tim Page's Nam.
posted by young_simba at 6:34 AM on March 26, 2006

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