Friday, January 25, 2013

Reading: A trip back to the Sixties...

I am a child of the Sixties.

I was 3 years old when the Sixties began, and 13 when they ended. I remember a lot of that decade, putting lie to the oft-stated conventional wisdom that "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there." Of course, while I was alive in the Sixties, I was too young to participate in the excesses of the decade, so it makes sense that I might actually remember more of that time than people who were older and did participate more fully.

Maybe it's just nostalgia, yearning for what seemed to be a simpler time (although the Sixties were not simple at all), but I'm fascinated by that decade. So, when I was at the library the other night and, while browsing the shelves, found What They Didn't Teach You About the 60s (Presidio, 2001; 360 pages), by Mike Wright, I picked it up immediately. I'm also doing some research into the decades following World War II, so I also had research aims in mind. But I mostly picked it up because it just sounded like something I would enjoy reading.

And I did. Now, I have to point out that it is not a perfect book. I found a few really obvious but probably minor errors. For example, Wright says that the actress who first played Catwoman in the 1960s "Batman" television series was Julie Newman, when even a non-fan of the show like me knows that it was Julie Newmar who played the role. This might even have been a simple typographical error; there are several of those in the book. Overall, these errors did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Wright covers almost every aspect of US culture in the Sixties, from music and television to politics, the Vietnam War, and the protests of that non-declared (from the US standpoint) war. He also covers the Cold War, the space program, the political assassinations that seemed all too common during the decade, and the Civil Rights movement that continued into the Sixties from its roots in the 1950s.

That's a lot to cover in the course of less than 400 pages, but Wright does a pretty good job of balancing completeness and detail. Having lived through those years, I have to admit that there wasn't really that much that he wrote about that I didn't know about, at least in outline. But I can see how someone who wasn't there might not know a lot about many of the events of the decade. In high school history classes, there is generally some attempt to stay away from controversial issues, and there was much in the Sixties that remains controversial even today. So, unless the student who was in high school in the Eighties and the Nineties and beyond, or even, really, in the Seventies, might not know a lot about the events of the Sixties unless they have deliberately sought out the information. While I wouldn't recommend this as the only book someone might read about the Sixties, I think it's a good starting point for anyone who doesn't know much about that decade and would like to know more.

I already mentioned the main drawback of the book, in the form of some mostly insignificant errors. One of the things I most liked about the book as I was reading is that Wright is very good about providing fairly specific dates when different events happened. Perhaps this is just the researcher in me, but I like to know specifically when things happened, not just the month or the year involved. There is some of that here, but there are also a significant number of specific dates. It makes it even more interesting when you can, as I was able to in a couple of instances while I was reading, to be able to say, yes, I know exactly what I was doing on that day, when this or that event took place. But, as I've noted here before, I have a particular fascination with different events that happened to occur on the same date.

It is going to be interesting as I continue my research and fact check the information here against information from other sources (here's a research hint: always fact check, no matter how authoritative a source seems to be), to see just how accurate Wright's dates are, and how his evaluations of events match up with other writers' perspectives on those events.

Which, I suppose, is just another indication of the extent of my geekiness.

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