#BookReview – The Hippies: A 1960s History by John Anthony Moretta

Among the most significant subcultures in modern U.S. history, the hippies had a far-reaching impact. Their influence essentially defined the 1960s—hippie antifashion, divergent music, dropout politics and “make love not war” philosophy extended to virtually every corner of the world and remains influential.
The political and cultural institutions that the hippies challenged, or abandoned, mainly prevailed. Yet the nonviolent, egalitarian hippie principles led an era of civic protest that brought an end to the Vietnam War.

Their enduring impact was the creation of a 1960s frame of reference among millions of baby boomers, whose attitudes and aspirations continue to reflect the hip ethos of their youth.

Published: January 2017

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My Review

The hippies emerged within a perfect storm of circumstances, including the economic boom of the fifties; the Vietnam War; the use of LSD by our government, which then bled into the academic world and, consequently, the large population of college students; and the rise of rock music and its resulting lifestyle. This book takes us through the entire decade, showing us how and why the hippie movement occurred, as well as why it fell apart.

The first chapter goes back to the ’40s and ’50s. We see how the Beats made way for the hippies to emerge, despite the two having much different lifestyles and cultural viewpoints. This chapter also shows us how society’s rise in commercialism created a desire for teens to escape the trappings of their parents. For me, this was the most interesting chapter, as it provided insight into all that came afterward.

Stylistically, the writing is not overly academic, making for an easy, casual read. That being said, the author tends to belabor points, expounding for pages at a time and/or repeating the same ideas in different words.

I also had some problems with the content. Throughout the book, the author makes the assertion that the hippies’ use of LSD lead them to harder drugs such as meth and heroin. This is actually not true, at least not for those who were “real” hippies. The majority of those who transitioned into heroin and such were not actually part of the hippie movement, but instead were part of a burgeoning drug culture having nothing to do with the hippies or their specific beliefs.

The author also consistently makes the claim that hippies were a kind of closet racist community. He gives us no facts to back up his claim, instead stating this supposed racism to be the reason why there weren’t a lot of black hippies. This is a major leap, taking one fact and assuming it is connected to another fact. The truth is that the white and black communities were simply not well integrated in the early to mid-sixties. The low ratio of black hippies is a complicated issue having little, if anything, to do with hippies being a racist community.

The chapter on ‘The Hippies and Rock and Roll’ was a disappointment for me. We spend a lot of time going backward to music of the ’50s in order to explain the rise of rock. Then we spend a whole lot of time on the Beatles, a band that did not play much of a role in hippie culture. The San Francisco bands that influenced hippies and who were part of the culture, such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, received little more than occasional mentions.

All three major music festivals are well covered. We see how the Monterey Pop Festival opened the pathway for Woodstock. The author also does a great job of showing us the disaster of Altamont, which had little to do with hippies and never had a chance of being anything close to mood of the first major festivals of the era.

We also get a good look at some of the major communes that sprung up around the country as a result of hippies trying to escape the turmoil around them. The author spends a lot of time on communes such as The Farm, giving us a fairly well balanced representation of the rise and fall of communal life.

I read a lot about this era and, while this book has some good qualities, I didn’t find it to be one of the better books on this topic. Still, there is some worthwhile information here for those interested in a detailed look at the decade.

*I received an ebook copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. 🙂