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The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage by…
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The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

by Todd Gitlin

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477532,868 (3.65)5

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1960s (143)
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This book provides an extensive, detailed, well-researched, and personal account of the 1960s political youth movement. The combination of factual accounts of major events and anecdotes of illustrative minor events evokes the zeitgeist of the 60s. Although I do not always concur with Gitlin's extrapolated wisdom regarding movement strategy, his theoretical commentary is thoughtful and never overwhelms the other content. This work gets five stars primarily because Gitlin's exposition of the nitty-gritty internal workings of activist groups is excellent to the point of being a must-read for anyone interested in the subject. ( )
  brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
Beh. Totally self-serving ego stroker... ( )
  ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage originally published in 1987, was reprinted in 1993 with a new preface by the author. Gitlin’s book focuses on the development and function of the New Left, a group of people with radical and extreme ideas and tendencies who were politically and socially active in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s.

Todd Gitlin is currently professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. He holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Harvard College and graduates degrees in political science (University of Michigan) and sociology (University of California, Berkley). In addition to his academic achievements, Gitlin maintained an active political activist career during the 1960s and 1970s, servings as the president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from 1963 until 1964. Gitlin has written and edited several other books and articles.

Gitlin’s book focuses mainly on the decade of the 1960s, yet is not restricted to this time period. He does include issues and events that predate the 1960s as well as events that follow this era, specifically the 1970s and 80s. The majority of Gitlin’s book deals with historical events within the United States, but he does include areas outside of the United States with the discussion of American foreign policy and his own personal international travel.

Organized chronologically, Gitlin’s work functions as a historical narrative of the time period of the 1960s in the United States. Beginning with the rumblings of university student’s discontent coming out of the 1950s Gitlin’s work begins a crescendo as “the movement” begins to grow and “surge” into all out “revolution” by the mid 60s. As both a participant and a witness to the historical events of the 60s, Gitlin uses his personal and existential experiences to help chronicle the social and political events and climate of the time. He writes, “The American youth upheaval was but a part of a worldwide surge which cannot be explained simply….there had to be a critical mass of students…[and] the upsurge…from the living elements of a unique, unrepeatable history, under the spreading wings of the zeitgeist” (4). He offers both personal accounts as well as academic analysis in his retelling of the development, rise, and ultimately the fall of the New Left movement.

Gitlin draws on myriad source material throughout his book. Ranging from his personal experience documented in letters and journals, to interviews, periodicals, and monographs. These sources allow him to effectively convey major socio-political themes and trends from the period.

Gitlin’s work is written in a fashion that takes his reader on a journey through a period of the twentieth century America that was dominated by social, political, and civil unrest. His book is organized into four parts: “Affluence and Undertow,” “The Movement,” “The Surge,” and “Forcing the Revolution.” This organization introduces the reader to the social and political climate of the 1950s that lead to the development of student-lead organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) the latter of which Gitlin was president.
As a result of the affluence and productivity of post-war America (at least for white America) the Old Left became the political minority leaving major issues like civil rights, Vietnam, and the environment in the shadow of suburban life. It was the youth of this period, those in their late teens and early twenties that “rose from the ashes of the American left” and began to take issue with the injustices they saw within the American landscape (6). Yet, the New Left would not function in the same manners as the leftists of the previous generation.
The New Left was infused with a seemingly new type of energy and with a much larger spectrum of contention. Armed with their educations, fear of nuclear holocaust, and ideas ranging from Leninism to existentialism, the New Left was a young student based movement. Gitlin writes, “Suppose the SDS stood for students-as-a-whole, and students-as-a-whole stood for the young” (192). By the mid 1960s the New Left was quickly gaining recognition and support from not only students but also from individuals within the art and music community that helped to popularize the movement.
Gitlin argues that many of the participants in the New Left took their cue from popular figures like James Dean and Marlon Brando. These archetypes of rebellion and coolness represent the transition from old to new. The ever-growing popularity of rock music provided anthems and new avenues to express New Leftist ideas. Literature, specifically the existentialism of Camus and the wondrous themes of the Beats illustrate the transition from the contentment and affluence of the 50s to the developing radicalism of the 60s by means of personal responsibility and freedom of choice.
As a result, the New Left began to engage in direct action – setting up protests, sit-ins, and marches in response to the war in Vietnam and segregation in the south. Gitlin’s inclusion of biographical information, as both a participant and as an individual who lived contemporaneously with these historical events, provides his audience with unique insight and analysis of the New Left movement. As a ranking member of SDS Gitlin insightfully explains the linkage of the New Left with other organizations as well as the evolutional shift from a managerial liberal idea to a participatory radical group.
The forth section, “Forcing the Revolution,” begins in 1968 and is Gitlin’s explanation of the most radical and violent period for the New Left and the Untied States as a whole. Gitlin writes that, “One impulse for confrontation came from the desperate feeling of having exhausted the procedures of conventional politics” it was time for the New Left to “turn up the militancy” (285). With the increase in militancy came fractures within the organization of the New Left. Women within the New Left began to participate in what Gitlin refers to as “Revolution in the Revolution” creating their own movement separate from the New Left. Radical groups like the Weatherman began inflicting terror upon those they opposed by planting bombs inside buildings and under cars.
Ultimately, Gitlin argues that the New Left movement imploded. Unsure of their strategy and effectiveness in regard to the antiwar movement in addition to Nixon’s shrewd politicking and removal of troops from Vietnam, the New Left quickly began losing its foundation. Giltin explains that the student movement not only lost its momentum, but also its participants. As a result of the war in Vietnam and segregation in the south ending, the countercultures and the music of the 60s began to be appropriated by people seeking a lower risk and more pleasurable lifestyle. Outsiders too seized the platform and ideology of the New Left. Many of the tactics and criticisms of liberalism used by the New Left were adopted by the conservative right to install their values and attack the left. Yet, for Gitlin, the New Left in which he was so active was not a failure. As a result of the student movement blacks and women became recognized as full citizens throughout the country. The arts, music and literature benefited greatly from the creative developments of the era as did the environment. While the New Left could not be sustained indefinitely, the imprint it made on American society is ever lasting.

Gitlin does an excellent job of incorporating his biographical information within the narrative of his work. His personal experience and reflection help the reader to recreate the historical events they perhaps were not a part of. According to Irving Horowitz, “The Sixties benefits from being written by a sociologist…[and] A sense of fairness informs the work.” Because of the personal connection Gitlin has to the topic much of his narrative functions like a story. Randall Collins, referring to the people that lived through the 60s writes, “their story gives us an opportunity now to understand that deeper structure with sociological clarity.” ( )
  Reed_Books | Sep 28, 2011 |
Errata:

  • Pg. 120..."helped form the Communist-lining American Student Union" should read "Communist-leaning".

  • The index lists an entry to "Pynchon, Thomas" on page 242. This should read 243.

  billmcn | Jan 26, 2010 |
The antidote to all of the lies and innuendo that have permeated the revisionist telling of the 60's. ( )
  Redsfan | Jul 28, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553372122, Paperback)

The author was elected president of Students for a Democratic Society in 1963, and he brings an insider's perspective to bear on the turbulent whirl of political, social, and sexual rebellion we now call "the sixties." Gitlin does a nice job of integrating his first-person recollections with a broader history that ranges from the roots of 1960s revolt in 1950s affluence and complacency to the movement's apocalyptic collapse in the early 1970s--a victim of its own excesses as well as governmental persecution. His lucid summary of the complex strands that intertwined to form the counterculture is essential basic reading for those who don't know the difference between the Diggers and the Yippies. --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:45 -0400)

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The author, a student activist during the sixties, offers a personal perspective on the social and political changes of that decade.

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