“If you remember the Sixties,” quipped Robin Williams, “you weren’t there.” That was, of course, an oblique reference to the mind-bending drugs that clouded perception—yet time has proven an equally effective hallucinogen. This book revisits the Sixties we forgot or somehow failed to witness. In a kaleidoscopic global tour of the decade, Gerard DeGroot reminds us that the “Ballad of the Green Beret” outsold “Give Peace a Chance,” that the Students for a Democratic Society were outnumbered by Young Americans for Freedom, that revolution was always a pipe dream, and that the Sixties belong to Reagan and de Gaulle more than to Kennedy and Dubcek.
The Sixties Unplugged shows how opportunity was squandered, and why nostalgia for the decade has obscured sordidness and futility. DeGroot returns us to a time in which idealism, tolerance, and creativity gave way to cynicism, chauvinism, and materialism. He presents the Sixties as a drama acted out on stages around the world, a theater of the absurd in which China’s Cultural Revolution proved to be the worst atrocity of the twentieth century, the Six-Day War a disaster for every nation in the Middle East, and a million slaughtered Indonesians martyrs to greed.
The Sixties Unplugged restores to an era the prevalent disorder and inconvenient truths that longing, wistfulness, and distance have obscured. In an impressionistic journey through a tumultuous decade, DeGroot offers an object lesson in the distortions nostalgia can create as it strives to impose order on memory and value on mayhem.
Without sentiment or tears, The Sixties Unplugged takes a fresh look at that insane and wonderful sore-thumb decade of the 20th Century. A thoroughly researched work of history, it is also a good story, beautifully told.
A truly international history that crosses geographical boundaries in all directions. No other book covers such a diverse array of events with such facility and verve. Vivid and compelling, The Sixties Unplugged captures the frenetic energy and disorientation of the decade.
DeGroot deconstructs virtually all key icons of the era--Woodstock ('a festival, yes; a nation, no'), the Beatles, Dylan, student radicals, Haight-Ashbury, the sexual revolution and even Muhammad Ali--finding that their legends loom far larger than their realities. One might disagree, but DeGroot's book comprises a fascinating revisionist polemic.
DeGroot seeks to debunk the popular legend of the Sixties as a golden age of peace, love and understanding...He has written a book containing a little something to offend--and enlighten--just about everyone...DeGroot's The Sixties Unplugged stands as an informative, well-researched, mostly on-the-mark response to the claims of graying Baby Boomers about the wall-to-wall wonderfulness of that long, strange trip of a decade.
In his meaty, rich text, DeGroot argues that the real spirit of the '60s has been lost in a deluge of nostalgia. The "free" decade, the freak show, was one in which China's Cultural Revolution proved to be one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. The sixties, he argues, were shaped more by the election of Reagan as the governor of California than by Kennedy. We've "chosen" to forget about Sharpeville, the Gaza Strip and Jakarta. The so-called "revolution" of the sixties, as we know it, didn't really exist. History, he argues, is not necessarily an accurate representation of what happened--but the way we view that it happened. His book, disguised as a coffee table "light read," is sure to spark controversy. It is, in effect a history book. Only in it, DeGroot says what few history books have the guts to.
The Sixties Unplugged is a bracing blast for those who want their history unadulterated and straight up. Gerard J. DeGroot's freewheeling book offers 67 snapshots of this discordant decade, from raunchy Berkeley to barbwired Berlin...DeGroot's picaresque journey visits all the sacred shrines familiar to those who lived through the decade or heard about it at granddad's knee: People's Park in Berkeley, the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, the bomb cellars of Greenwich Village, the battlefield in South Vietnam and the bra-bonfire outside the Miss America pageant. But the author also includes less familiar stops on the Magical Mystery Tour, reminding readers that the Sixties with a capital S did not belong to America alone. DeGroot's disparate vignettes are grouped into 15 chapters that show that the unrest reached far beyond our coasts, washing onto the shores of Mexico, Britain, Indonesia, Israel, France, China and indeed everywhere that people carried placards or transistor radios.
For many years, the two standard histories of the 1960s in the United States have been Todd Gitlin's The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage and Milton Viorst's Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s. A writer would need lots of confidence and energy to dethrone these works, and DeGroot has what it takes...This work is an important contribution to the literature of contemporary history.
DeGroot debunks this decade with bravura, relishing the ironies...[He] whirls through the era with a kind of manic energy...There is much to admire about this book, which is scrupulously researched and provocative. I thought I knew this period well, having lived through it intensely, but I was often surprised by the details that DeGroot churns up. He adds a great deal of nuance to memories...There was something fresh and strange about this brief era, and I refuse to let go of that. But I acknowledge that one must always keep its advances in perspective, and DeGroot's book--despite its dizzying aspect--goes a long way toward providing it.
The cover art is swirly and psychedelic, but inside the author makes some trenchant points. [DeGroot] argues that in the 1960s, cynicism trumped hope and materialism quashed creativity, despite what people remember.
DeGroot makes an important contribution to the literature through his inclusion of events outside the U.S. in the 1960s.
- 2009, Winner of the Ray and Pat Browne Award
- 528 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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