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The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade

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Overview

“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.

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Editorial Reviews

William McKeen
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.
Jeremi Suri
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.
Washington Times - James E. Person Jr.
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.
Parade - Caitlin O'Toole
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.
San Diego Union-Tribune - Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
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.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Jay Parini
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.
Choice - K. B. Butter
DeGroot makes an important contribution to the literature through his inclusion of events outside the U.S. in the 1960s.
Washington Times

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.
— James E. Person Jr.

Parade

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.
— Caitlin O'Toole

San Diego Union-Tribune

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.
— Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman

Chronicle of Higher Education

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.
— Jay Parini

Vancouver Sun
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.
Choice

DeGroot makes an important contribution to the literature through his inclusion of events outside the U.S. in the 1960s.
— K. B. Butter

Chronicle of Higher Education
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.
— Jay Parini
Choice
DeGroot makes an important contribution to the literature through his inclusion of events outside the U.S. in the 1960s.
— K. B. Butter
Washington Times
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.
— James E. Person Jr.
San Diego Union-Tribune
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.
— Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
Parade
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.
— Caitlin O'Toole
Glenn Frankel
Historians hate the idea that you can carve the past into neat little slices, era by era, like fine Velveeta, but publishers seem to love it. Gerard J. DeGroot, professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, tries to please both sides by offering what he calls "an impressionistic wandering through the landscape of a disorderly decade." Instead of an over-arching narrative, he serves up 67 short treatments of diverse moments and subjects—"shiny pieces of glass capable of being arranged into myriad realities." It's a clever concept, one that shows to advantage DeGroot's sweeping range of knowledge. He's done a gargantuan amount of research, is comfortable with the era's characters and the movements and is a reasonably entertaining narrator, with an eye for the arresting and the unusual.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

De Groot, a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews (The Bomb: A Life), argues that our conventional view of the '60s as a time of ripe and productive counterculturalism and social revolution is a sham. He further argues that contemporary nostalgia for the hopefulness (which proved futile) and idealism (which proved fraudulent) of that turbulent decade led to virtually no positive advances. In DeGroot's view, not much was achieved for civil rights, women's liberation and environmental awareness, not to mention advances and great work in the visual, film and musical arts. The commonly accepted history of the decade, DeGroot insists, is "a collection of beliefs zealously guarded by those keen to protect something sacred." In the end, DeGroot envisions the '60s as a trivial period of self-indulgence on the part of the West and a bitterly tragic 10 years as they played out in other theaters (especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia). 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. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

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 Rageand 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 (modern history, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland; A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War) has what it takes. Told impressionistically rather than strictly chronologically (because "the 1960s lacked coherent logic"), this is perhaps an unorthodox history, but it's a solid work of scholarship nonetheless. The chapter titles, taken mostly from influential rock lyrics of the era (e.g., "You Say You Want a Revolution"), set the tone, although DeGroot doesn't dwell on the pop culture aspects of the Sixties. More serious in purpose, his book transcends the Sixties of "sacred memory" and considers the impact of world events (e.g., the Chinese Cultural Revolution) and the rise of American conservatism. As DeGroot comments, "The door of idealism was opened briefly and was then slammed shut." An impressive collage of 67 standalone essays, this work is an important contribution to the literature of contemporary history. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
—Thomas A. Karel

Kirkus Reviews
A squarish yet thorough survey of the time of torment. Born in 1955, DeGroot (Modern History/Univ. of St. Andrews; Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, 2006, etc.) was, he admits, an observer but not a participant in the tumultuous decade, and he approvingly quotes Louis Menand's contention that the problem with '60s history is "that it is written by those who care too much about the decade." DeGroot isn't exactly indifferent, but his interest seems to lie in looking at the time through the horn rims of the Silent Majority rather than the granny glasses of Greenwich Village. Indeed, at the outset he trumpets the fact that Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" outsold John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," though the terms are unclear: The former was released in 1966, the latter in mid-1969, so it stands to reason that the Sadler would have outsold the Lennon in the '60s. And Sadler is forgotten today, while Lennon lives on. Whatever the case, the datum points to DeGroot's concern to tell the story of the time as one in which "Sugar, Sugar" gets equal billing with "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," in which blue-collar patriots outnumbered but did not outshout the Abbie Hoffmans of the world. The author visits familiar ground throughout; here his narrative touches on the Cuban missile crisis, there on the Civil Rights movement, here on Tet, there on Chappaquiddick. To his credit, DeGroot travels outside the United States too, calling on the London Mods and the protesters at Tlatelolco before the Mexico City massacre of 1968. The author attributes to the comic Robin Williams the tagline, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there," which othersources attribute to Timothy Leary and even Grace Slick. But no matter. His dismissal of nostalgia for the era as misplaced could well be countered by observing that, given what has followed, it seems like not such a bad time after all, even if it makes Pat Buchanan foam at the mouth. A useful primer for those who, indeed, weren't there-but best read alongside eyewitness accounts such as Todd Gitlin's Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage and Ronald Fraser's 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674034631
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 814,166
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerard J. DeGroot is Professor of Modern History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. His many books include The First World War and A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War.
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction


Preludes
  • Torgau: A Brief Moment of Sanity
  • At Home: The Generation Gap


Premonitions
  • On the Airwaves: Transistor Radios
  • San Francisco: A Collection of Angels
  • Howling at the World
  • Worcester: The Pill
  • The Congo: Democracy Murdered
  • The Old Bailey: Lady Chatterley on trial
  • Washington: New Frontiers


Hard Rain
  • Sharpeville: Apartheid Is a Way of Death
  • Bay of Pigs: It Seemed Like a Good Idea
  • Berlin: The Wall
  • Ap Bac: Bad News from a Place Called Vietnam
  • Novaya Zemlya and Cuba: Big Bombs


All Gone to Look for America
  • Albany and Birmingham: Lessons of Nonviolence
  • Port Huron: Students for a Democratic Society
  • Washington: I Have a Dream
  • Arlington National Cemetery: Kennedy and Vietnam


Call Out the Instigators
  • Duxbury: Rachel Carson
  • Harlem: Malcolm X
  • Havana: Che
  • Miami: The Greatest
  • Chelsea: Mary Quant


Universal Soldiers
  • Tonkin Gulf: Carte Blanche
  • Sinai: The Six-Day War
  • Biafra: The Problem of Africa
  • Guangxi Province: Cannibals for Mao


And in the Streets . . .
  • Margate: Mods versus Rockers
  • Watts: Long Hot Summer
  • Berkeley: Free Speech
  • Amsterdam: Provo Pioneers
  • Selma: Black Power


Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll
  • Millbrook: Acid Dreams
  • In Bed: Sex and Love
  • Liverpool: The Beatles
  • Manchester: The Battle for Bob Dylan
  • Woodstock: A Festival Yes; A Nation No


Everybody Get Together
  • Sharon: Young Americans for Freedom
  • London: Love Is All You Need
  • San Francisco: It’s Free Because It’s Yours!
  • Greenwich Village: Yippie!
  • Oakland: The Black Panthers
  • Delano: Boycott Grapes


Turn, Turn, Turn
  • Saigon: Tet
  • Atlantic City: From Miss America to Ms. World
  • Greenwich Village: Stonewall
  • San Francisco: Summer of Rape


Gone to Graveyards
  • Memphis: The Death of King
  • Prague: Short Spring
  • Los Angeles: The Death of Hope
  • Mexico City: Shooting Students


You Say You Want a Revolution?
  • Berlin: Rudi the Red
  • New York: Up against the Wall, Motherfucker!
  • Paris: Absurdists Revolt
  • London: A Very British Revolution


Wilted Flowers
  • Vatican: Humanae Vitae
  • Mayfair: Casualties of the Cultural Revolution
  • People’s Park: The Future in a Vacant Lot
  • San Diego: A Burning Desire to End the War


Meet the New Boss
  • Jakarta: A Perfect Little Coup
  • Hollywood: Takin’ Care of Business
  • Los Angeles: A Goddamned Electable Person
  • St. Louis: Curt Flood versus Baseball


No Direction Home
  • Altamont: The Day the Music Died
  • Chappaquiddick: A Career Drowned
  • The Moon: Magnificent Desolation
  • Greenwich Village: You Don’t Need a Weatherman
  • Old Bailey: Another Obscenity Trial

  • Epitaph: It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall

  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2012

    Read it!

    In the last year I read about twenty books covering post WWII period. Majority of them focused on the three decades that changed the way we live, think and connect with family, friends and strangers. Sixties unplugged is one of the best in its geographical coverage and intelligent explanation of events. The author gives enough information and at the same time connects all the disparate facts such that the decade’s canvas, so disruptive and exciting, can be admired, judged and learned from even by those who have less knowledge of the period. As for the author’s, and thus the book’s, political leanings I think that every text can be accused of being ideologically skewed – it is in the eyes of the reader to whom, in the end, the skewing belongs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2008

    interesting but uneven survey of the 60s

    'The Sixties Unplugged' by Gerard DeGroot is a survey of a controversial decade with both considerable strengths and weaknesses. DeGroot is good at seeing past the blinkers of both the Right and the Left and he is good at seeing the various relationships between technological change and social change. He is excellent at pointing out the relatively ignored parts of sixties history. There are good accounts here of the Bay of Pigs, the raising of the Berlin Wall, the Six Day War, Biafra, and the genocidal slaughter in Indonesia. He is fairly good at capturing the growth and contradictions of feminism, Black Power, and the New Left. I think his look at the Young Americans for Freedom is interesting, but they are not as significant as DeGroot seems to think. The absurdist movement in Holland was an interesting portion of this book. He paints the horrors of life under Mao in China with an unsparing eye, pointing out how some of the more extreme admirers of Mao had sentimental delusions about what was going on there. The butchery and the inhumanity in China at this time are chillingly captured. DeGroot's handle on popular culture is rather less certain, however. His look at the Mods versus the Rockers wars in England seems to me incomplete or sketchy. While DeGroot is unsentimental about the 'myth' of Woodstock, he seems to give the music unconditional positive regard - I think even sympathetic listeners found the music at Woodstock to be an uneven set -Sha Na Na anyone? - at best. DeGroot correctly points out the role George Martin had in 'manufacturing' the Beatles, but seems to think the Beatles asserted their own creativity over the influence of Martin as time marched on. Debatable, surely. He oddly uses Ricky Nelson as an example of a manufactured rock star. Ricky Nelson is widely respected in rockabilly circles and by rock historians. He couldn't sing? What about Jagger at Altamont? Fabian would have been a better example of a manufactured rock star - he was literally pulled off the street and made a rock star even though he had never sung before just because he looked like a rock star. He couldn't sing either, but I perhaps perversely persist in thinking Fabian rocks. What DeGroot says about the Monkees is just plain wrong. He claims that Davy Jones was an actor who wanted to sing when he joined the Monkees. In point of fact, Davy Jones had already recorded a musical album before he even joined the Monkees. I know because I own that album - I bought it at a hospital thrift store. I don't think any actor who has already recorded an album qualifies as an actor who 'wants' to sing. I have no idea what Mickey Dolenz did before the Monkees. I would suggest DeGroot's research here is, to put it politely, sloppy. The stuff on Hendrix is sketchy and does little to conjure up the man and why he mattered to so many people. On the whole, I recommend this book, however guardedly. I think DeGroot gets carried away with his own rhetorical flow at times, but it does make it quite readable. I don't think this is a right-wing gloss on history. DeGroot seems to poke at the delusions of both sides to my eye. For anyone wanting a general overview of the decade, this is a good start. I would be careful about citing it in academic contexts, however. DeGroot has prepared an interesting dish - some of it goes down well, but some of it maybe should have been cooked longer. Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2008

    like a bad movie you are sorry you watched

    This is a standard conservative rewrite.Instead of any kind of balanced view of the events that made the '60s,DeGroot instead focuses on the blemishes of high profile personalities.Typical of this is DeGroot's depiction of The March on Washington as just a sentimental get together of detached pampered liberals.At the same time he devotes limitless praise for Young Americans for Freedom,the creation of National Review creator,William Buckley.The pop art cover is a thin disguise for silly condemnation of events by an obvious righty. By half way I was bored and when I finished I felt like I had watched 'Showgirls' one too many times.

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