The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decadeby Gerard J. DeGroot
“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
“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.
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 offendand enlightenjust 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.
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 happenedbut 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.
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
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 bookdespite its dizzying aspectgoes a long way toward providing it.
DeGroot makes an important contribution to the literature through his inclusion of events outside the U.S. in the 1960s.
K. B. Butter
The Washington Post
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
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
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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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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.