It is often said that history is written by the victors, meaning, I suppose, that the particular interpretation recorded for posterity reflects the ideology and perspective of those dominating forces successful in the particular struggle a particular historical treatment covers. Of course, such a self-serving interpretation may in fact vary wildly from anything like an accurate accounting of the actual unfolding of events and issues. Nowhere in contemporary society is such an inaccurate, disingenuous, and self-serving revisionist tendency likely as in the coverage and reflection on the events and issues of the sixties counterculture. Many recent tomes purport the times in such a solipsistic and self-serving fashion as to turn the truth on its very head. Yet all that is corrected in this wonderful overview of the momentous events and social, economic, and political issues as characterized the sixties. In "America Divided", a fascinating work comparing the deep and dangerous divisions within American society to those of the Civil War a hundred years before, authors Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin accurately describe and explain the complex forces that seemed to strain the social fabric to the point of near-revolution and widespread violence in the streets.
The authors carefully avoid the twin mistakes of either overly romanticizing the perspectives, ideas, and issues of the youthful counter culturists to epic proportions on the one hand, or of summarily dismissing them as silly and superficial on the other hand, as is often the case with neo-conservative revisionists who would have us believe the manifest troubles of contemporary America stem primarily from the permissiveness of the counterculture rather than admit it is much more likely the result of massive and constant dislocations associated with scientific and technological change that is threatening the core values and mores of American culture. This book faithfully retraces and integrates the various strands running through the sixties into a seamless historical narrative that renders one of the most sophisticated, articulate, and accurate interpretations of a decade that left those of us who lived through it breathless and yet strangely unable to describe it to anyone who had not shared the experience.
After reading the book, one remembers that those times were indeed characterized by great complexity, diversity, and incredible intellectual ferment and debate. Other recent accounts that blame the counterculture for the contemporary cultural malaise overlook the amazing diversity and intense ongoing dialogue that often degenerated into violent confrontation, whether it be over free speech, civil rights, Vietnam, or the perfidy of the power elite comprised of multinational corporations and big government. This book is a compelling, immensely readable, and quite entertaining work, and one that brilliantly achieves its objective by accurately describing, explaining, and integrating the intricate patchwork of events, issues, and perspectives that made the sixties decade so vital and so unique on recent American history. As with the Civil War, we are unlikely to see its like again. Those of us who remember it as a time of pitch and moment regret it, though clearly other more constipated and conservative voices hardly agree. Read this one before the nattering nabobs of negativity at the helm of the media succeed in explaining it all away.