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The Sixties: Big Ideas, Small Books

The Sixties: Big Ideas, Small Books

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by Jenny Diski

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A brilliant, alternative take on sixties swinging London, Jenny Diski offers radical reconsiderations of the social, political, and personal meaning of that turbulent era.

What was Jenny Diski doing in the sixties? A lot: dropping out, taking drugs,


A brilliant, alternative take on sixties swinging London, Jenny Diski offers radical reconsiderations of the social, political, and personal meaning of that turbulent era.

What was Jenny Diski doing in the sixties? A lot: dropping out, taking drugs,

Editorial Reviews

Elsa Dixler
Here [Diski] recalls (sometimes hilariously) her experience of the '60s, but her emphasis is on the culture's ideas—about drugs, sex, education, mental illness and, to a lesser extent, politics. Very little of what she says is new, but she says it with intelligence, wit, an eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to laugh at her young self while respecting that self's hopes and efforts. She is completely unsentimental; no stardust for her…[Diski] leaves you with plenty to think about, and wanting more.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Like many other members of her generation, journalist and author Diski (On Trying to Keep Still) was drifting during the 1960s: she took drugs, had sex, and spent time in mental institutions in her attempts to subvert the Establishment. Cutting through the patina of nobility, nostalgia and idealism by which most of her fellows remember the time, Diski describes a counterculture ruled by intense self-absorption, a misguided, idealist attempt at radical reform that led directly to the corruption of the '80s. Diski brings as much objectivity to bear as she can, and her British perspective keeps her a few paces removed from the conflicts over civil rights and Vietnam. Her writing is pointed, holding many (herself included) to rigorous scrutiny, a cultural deconstruction that pushes back against the generally accepted, media-friendly, and very American image of the free-love '60s. Even readers familiar with the history will find her insights absorbing and eyebrow-raising. Though her conclusion falls short of condemnation-their motives were too pure for that-Diski makes succinct, clever and meaningful arguments exposing a self-mythologizing generation and its ultimate failures of both fore- and hindsight.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
Here are two useful and very different books offering insights on the storied decade of the 1960s. Agger (sociology, Univ. of Texas, Arlington) grew up in Eugene, OR , in the 1960s with a father who was a mentor to local civil rights activists. The family moved to Canada in 1969 for 12 years. Agger's personal story serves mainly to introduce and link themes; since 2004, he has interviewed 14 leaders from the era (both famous names like Tom Hayden and Mark Rudd and local leaders) and spreads their views richly throughout the book. Agger aims to "teach the Sixties" to the current generation—the children of the children of the Sixties—with an emphasis on politics rather than culture and counterculture, though sociocultural aspects seep into many of the interviews. A narrative time line provides a valuable overview of people and events. "Who won the Sixties?" is an underlying theme, and Agger and his interviewees argue whether the ultimate legacy of the Sixties was in fact the disappearance of the Left and a victory for conservatism. They also discuss the role of women in the patriarchal political movements of the time. Ultimately, this is an invigorating and hopeful book.
Kirkus Reviews
A slender meditation on the 1960s-part of Picador's Big Ideas/Small Books series. British novelist/memoirist Diski remembers the '60s very well. If her British experiences do not always line up with those of Americans, there are abundant parallels. "The Sixties," she writes, "were an idea in the minds, perhaps even more powerful than the experience, of those who were actually living through them." In her experience, that idea broke down into many compartments, including the intellectual and artistic. She recounts being turned on to the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac, of course, but also Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Neruda, Joyce, Brecht, Weill and Beethoven, as well as Buddy Holly and the Beatles ("though I was disdainful until Rubber Soul came along"). The idea was political as well, and here Diski is particularly sharp, noting the apparent ingratitude of a generation whose parents suffered depression and war only to raise children who would reject the world that had been made for them. But only for a while. Diski is also sharp-and sharp-edged-about the rise of an entirely different mode of being in the '70s and '80s, when ecstatic hippies became egomaniacal yuppies and the politics became truly ugly, as all the government-off-our-backs rhetoric of the antiwar movement converted into the self-serving Hobbesianism of the libertarian crowd. An overreliance on drugs didn't help, but it didn't hurt as much as the just-say-no types would have it, either. Writes the author, for the benefit of the uninitiated, "What happened when you smoked a joint and to a far greater extent when you dropped acid was that the world outside your head was utterly changed."Though Diski sounds melancholy notes ("young is aphase the old go through") and closes on a note of resignation, her elegant book might inspire readers-and not just those who were there-to try to remake the era anew.
From the Publisher

“In this brief volume, Diski brings the period into focus via a largely personal approach…. Ultimately, Diski suggests, the 1960s were more about illusions than revolution. The truth is more prosaic but also more interesting: It was a period in which disposable income, easy access to education and hipster capitalism encouraged an explosion of youthful enthusiasm (and youthful self-indulgence) that, as all youth movements, existed in a bubble, willfully unaware of the complexities of adulthood or even that anyone had ever felt this way before…. It's the measure of this book that she can simultaneously acknowledge this and embrace the messy, hopeful chaos of her own youth, in which "[n]arcissism meets the mirror stage and neither condition actually stops in infancy, especially when the times collude.” —David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“Powerful… Diski has fascinating--and entertaining--things to say about the differences between the '60s generation and their parents, drugs, the sexual revolution, communes, and the difference between America and her native Britain… She recalls (sometimes hilariously) her experience of the '60s… with intelligence, wit, an eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to laugh at her young self while respecting that self's hopes and efforts… Jenny Diski leaves you with plenty to think about, and wanting more.” —The New York Times Book Review

The Sixties is Diski at her most characteristically brilliant. . . . She is one of Britain's sharpest social commentators, her writing distinguished by its bleak wit, its honesty and acerbity.” —Michèle Roberts, Financial Times (UK)

“Involving, buoyant, thought-provoking...at once recalls the decade in a way that those who experienced it will recognize and is a singular rethink of that time. Diski is not polemical or doctrinaire. Her writing is calm and wry and her gift is for thinking about the sixties as if they were happening now.” —Kate Kellaway, The Observer (London)

“I like to find myself in the writing of Jenny Diski. In her wonderful memoir Skating to Antarctica I recognized her london, and saw her eccentric postwar childhood as a mirror of my own. Her adventure to the ice cap has since become a symbol of my generation's desire to catch the earth before it falls (and we fall with it). The Sixties offers another insightful and accurate mirror of my particular London mod genome, reflecting much of what I remember, and reminding me of much I had forgotten.” —Pete Townshend

“Mordant, entertaining, and shot through with her customary dry wit, Jenny Diski's view of the sixties is free of the sentimentality that characterizes so many accounts of the decade. Her London life was crossed by many of the most interesting cultural currents of the era, and in this short, personal account she looks back at her younger self with a clear eye and an open mind.” —Haruki Kunzru, author of My Revolutions

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Meet the Author

JENNY DISKI is the author of eight novels and two books of travel/memoir. Her journalism appears regularly in The London Review of Books.

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The Sixties: Big Ideas, Small Books 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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