The 60s: The Story of a Decade (New Yorker: The Story of a Decade)

The 60s: The Story of a Decade/ The New Yorker Ed. Henry Finder

| Book Review by Jim Scott |

This is the third of The New Yorker’s ambitious series, The 40s, The 50s, and now, The 60s.  Following the style of its previous collections, The 60s presents historic New Yorker pieces from the decade, accounting in real-time many seminal events of the tumultuous period.   The series’ project director is Henry Finder, the editorial director (since 1997) of this influential and talent-packed magazine.  (The highly respected Finder is also responsible for editing the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick’s, prolific authorship of books and magazine articles.)

By the 1960s, the magazine had fully transitioned in twenty years from a lighter, oft-time comedic, societal commentary magazine to one that approached problems and issues boldly.  Under editor Remnick from 1998, The New Yorker continued to celebrate its maturity as “fully politically engaged, daring and intellectually exciting.”  The decade series, launched under his tenure and Finder’s leadership, gives vibrancy and substance to that claim of successful, committed transition.

Many timeless works and authors of the ‘60s found place weekly in The New Yorker, and are included in The 60s, such as James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Rachel Carson, Bob Dylan, Cassius Clay, John Cheever, John Updike and many others.  The anthology is organized in parts, titled: Reckonings (environment, race, crime); Confrontation (University integration, Berkeley, Chicago, Washington, Prague); American Scenes (Cuba crisis, The Great Society, Missile silos, Woodstock, Assassinations); plus Artists & AthletesPoetryCritics (Cinema, Art & Architecture, Television, Theater, Music, Books).

Current New Yorker writers, including Jill Lapore, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Remnick himself, provide thoughtful, contemporary, historical context for the selected works.  The result is a fascinating time capsule portraying rising awareness or calls to action during what was, undeniably, a turbulent period.

One may pose several questions on editorial decisions driving this otherwise superb ‘60s collection: Where is Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963) who ignited the contemporary women’s movement?  Where is Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird, 1960) whose Atticus Finch lionized “white” courage in the face of racial prejudice? Where is Malcolm X’s Autobiography, 1965, which changed the way many Whites and Blacks looked at their worlds?

Despite these omissions, the book deserves your attention and a place on your bookshelf, along with its predecessors, The 40s and The 50s.  Finder’s works are towering celebrations, which should be read by anyone wishing to visit or revisit the trauma and upheaval of the ‘40s, the tensions, and innovations that underlay the placid ‘50s, and the “shattering of glass” which marked the ‘60s.

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