Steal This Dream: Abbie Hoffman and the Counterculture Revolution against America

Overview

Abbie Hoffman was at the center of most of the political and social tumult of the sixties, as a participant, disciple, instigator, leader, and dissident. He helped fight for civil rights in the South, organized on behalf of the poor in New York City, was the spiritual leader of the hippie generation from the Bay Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge, and was one of the most vocal and visible counterculture guerrillas in the fight against the war in Vietnam. Steal This Dream is a captivating oral history of Abbie Hoffman ...
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Overview

Abbie Hoffman was at the center of most of the political and social tumult of the sixties, as a participant, disciple, instigator, leader, and dissident. He helped fight for civil rights in the South, organized on behalf of the poor in New York City, was the spiritual leader of the hippie generation from the Bay Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge, and was one of the most vocal and visible counterculture guerrillas in the fight against the war in Vietnam. Steal This Dream is a captivating oral history of Abbie Hoffman and the sixties, as told by more than two hundred of those who demonstrated, protested, and lived through those tumultuous years.
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Editorial Reviews

David Futrelle

Abbie Hoffman careened through life like a force of nature, so it's no surprise that Steal This Dream, a sprawling oral biography, looks like debris left in the wake of a tornado. In his strange and convoluted career, Hoffman was a hippie, a Yippie, a political provocateur, an author, a drug dealer, a phone phreak, a community activist, a stand-up comedian -- sometimes all at once. When he took his own life in 1989, America lost one of its true originals.

Larry Sloman, a former National Lampoon and High Times editor who collaborated with Howard Stern on his two bestselling books, has clearly done his research. Steal This Dream, which covers Hoffman's life from his childhood through the glory years of the 1960s and the less-than-glorious years of the '70s and '80s, is constructed of thousands of excerpts from interviews with more than 200 of Hoffman's friends, ex-friends and acquaintances.

Sloman's various informers are often at odds with one another, but Sloman also seems at odds with himself. In his prologue, he professes to offer inspiration to a new generation of radicals -- whom he invites to "steal this dream" as Hoffman had once invited curious Yippie wannabes to "steal this book." But this is not an inspirational book; though fascinating, it's actually hideously depressing to read. The deeper you delve into the disaster zone that was Hoffman's life, the less likely you are to want to emulate it -- even if you could.

Hoffman was a charmer, to be sure -- a born performer, always on. Even his opponents conceded he was a brilliant propagandist and a master media manipulator, thought by many to be the inventor of the sound bite. But Hoffman manipulated everyone around him as well. From the beginning his audiences had trouble distinguishing his truths and his fictions. In time, Hoffman did too -- and his grandiosity got the better of him. He careened back and forth between bursts of manic energy and periods of black depression -- with the highs and lows getting higher and lower as the '60s gave way to the '70s. Eventually, Hoffman was diagnosed with manic depression, a condition exacerbated by his drug use, the tension and loneliness of his underground existence in the late '70s and the slow collapse and co-optation of the American counterculture. By the time he reemerged from the underground in 1980, Hoffman was a walking, talking anachronism, and he never quite recovered from his fall from grace. "If there is a political equivalent of somebody who appears on 'Hollywood Squares,' that's what Abbie had become," book editor Sam Mitnick told Sloman.

Whatever you make of Hoffman's public life -- whether you believe he was a political and cultural hero or little more than a pesky buffoon -- his private life was an appalling mess. The man who helped lead a generational revolt against the father figure of the Establishment was himself a terrible father, the ultimate narcissist. During his famous guerrilla assault on the money culture, as he tossed dollar bills onto the trading floor of the Stock Exchange and caused a near-riot, his first wife, Sheila, was on welfare, trying to support their children with only $16.17 in her bank account. Abbie rarely saw his son and referred to "the kid" in the third person even when the two came face to face. Ultimately, he cut his first two wives, and all of his children, out of his will.

Abbie Hoffman was one of a kind. As Sloman's book makes clear, it's perhaps just as well. -- Salon

Wilborn Hampton
. . . .reads more like a sound-bite history. . . .But as Hoffman virtually invented the sound bite, it somehow seems suitable. . . .[It is a] surprisingly rich and detailed panorama of a movement that helped stop a war, bring down a President and, for better or worse, change the social fabric of the nation. —The New York Times
Library Journal
Hoffman is best remembered as the political prankster of the New Left, a genuinely deserving claimant in 1968 America to the title of youth leader. This "oral biography" combines testimony from several dozen Hoffman friends, relatives, and rivals, moving from childhood in Worcester, MA, to his lonely suicide in 1989 at age 52. Most famous as the maverick defendant in the 1968 Chicago Seven trial, Hoffman was radicalized by the Southern voter registration drives. A counterculture legend, he was a camera hog, compulsive gambler, reckless womanizer, and incompetent drug dealer. For every anecdote about a man whose highest concern was his next sexual liaison, another reveals a passionate protester against war and water pollution. The aptly conceived biography would have benefitted from more stage-setting passages by Sloman (who has collaborated on both Howard Stern best sellers), but its approach captures the complexity, if not the depth, of this manic-depressive, always broke, wannabe celebrity revolutionary. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.--Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Upper Darby, PA
Wilborn Hampton
. . . .reads more like a sound-bite history. . . .But as Hoffman virtually invented the sound bite, it somehow seems suitable. . . .[It is a] surprisingly rich and detailed panorama of a movement that helped stop a war, bring down a President and, for better or worse, change the social fabric of the nation. -- The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Abbie Hoffman, cut and pasted—and so made whole. This oral biography by Howard Stern collaborator Sloman consists of hundreds of quotations from dozens of interviewees, including Hoffman, who died in 1989. The assembled cast includes Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, William Kunstler, Tom Hayden, Daniel Ellsberg, G. Gordon Liddy, Jerry Rubin, Grace Slick, and Hoffman's siblings, parents, wives, and children. Hoffman, a Worcester, Mass., native and Brandeis student in the '50s, went on to become an organizer in Mississippi for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Later, in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, he fell in with the Diggers, a group of actors-turned-activists, soon thereafter gaining his first major exposure with future Yippies co-leader Jerry Rubin at a photo-op money-burning at the New York Stock Exchange in 1967.

As Art Goldberg puts it, after his trial for his role in the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention riots, Hoffman was more than a radical; he was a media celebrity. Later, he befriended John Lennon and Yoko Ono, became an outlaw and a hustler, and drifted into drug-dealing. Busted in the '70s, he went underground for much of the decade. Sloman's choice of the oral biography technique, on one level an exceedingly lazy, and sometimes confusing, approach (the reader is given zero context for most speakers or their comments), comes to seem an eminently reasonable device for writing the life of the radical activist and author whose own literary works tended to aspire toward 'anti-books. Readers will feel for Hoffman's son, America, who after his father's death wished he could just talk to Abbie, man-to-man. And Ginsberg neatly analyzes the subject's legacy whenhe says Hoffman's idea for social revolution was premature, noting that its fruition came in eastern Europe 20 years later. Through sometimes contradictory voices and fractured perspectives, Hoffman as a person, with his moral strength and personal vulnerabilities, slowly—and surprisingly—comes into a sort of focus.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385411622
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/17/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.45 (d)

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