Richard Neville was one of the big figures of the 1960s youth scenes. After making a name for himself by founding the subversive review OZ in Australia, for which he faced an obscenity trial, he went on to issue his conterculture publication from the UK while roaming the world to report on what the "Underground" was up to. PLAY POWER is an exhaustive (300 pages) compilation of anecdotes about the Underground scene, mainly 1967 to early 1970, with a few references back to the American civil rights movement or Beatnik predecessors.
The book has very little structure, being simply a series of self-contained writings charting some event or trend that caught Neville's interest. At first this can be a little confusing, but the reader is soon absorbed in these three years of wild happenings. Neville describes topic from making love behind the Paris barricades in May 1968 to roaming the Istanbul-Kathmandu trail, from young people sleeping rough in Amsterdam to how to buy dope or even grow your own. There are sad vignettes like the plight of Europeans sentenced to thirty years in a Turkish prison for minor drug offences (though do a web search on the Dutchman, the story has a somewhat happy ending), and heartwarming bits such as an old man's reminisces about joining the Underground after a long life as a straight.
In the last part of the book, "The Politics of Play", Neville draws a useful distinction between the Underground and the New Left, two scenes which tend to be conflated in stereotypical depictions of the 1960s today. For Neville, the New Left is about working hard and working cooperatively, while for the Underground there's no desire to work at all. While the New Left sought to give work to all, the Underground shrugged off the 9 to 5 order and focused on whatever gave them pleasure, and someone they managed to get by. At a time when digital technology and telecommuting offers people an unprecedented opportunity to make money while still traveling wherever they wish, Neville's views have a renewed importance.
Neville writes about these massive social changes with obvious delight, feeling that these self-empowered young people are a wave of the future, sure to cast the old order aside. That the Underground pretty much evaporated after the book was published makes this optimism rather poignant. But Neville's chronicles are not entirely rosy, for he does soberly discuss trends in the Underground such as conning "straights" out of their money, knowingly writing bad cheques, or turning to prostitution for quick cash. Still, one mostly can't help share his enthusiasm for the promise of this era.
For anyone interested in the radicalism of the late 1960s, Neville's book is a must-read. It is sad that it fell out of print--though it is so much of its time that a new edition would be hard to come up with--but seek it out on the used market with zeal. If your interests are on the Istanbul-Kathmandu route specifically, you'll find the book an important contemporary account to supplement later histories like David Tomory's A Season in Heaven: True Tales from the Road to Kathmandu.