Reviews

Reviews– The Good, the Not-so, and the Lukewarm....

From Library Journal:
Now that those who grew up with the Vietnam War are retiring, the compilation and packaging of their oral testimonies is proceeding at a great pace on the web, as primary-source material for scholarly monographs, and in relatively unprocessed book form. Gurvis (Careers  for Nonconformists), a freelance writer who often covers the unconventional and was herself formed in and of the Sixties, takes the "in their  words" approach, and while she frames each of her themes (e.g., Kent State,  war resistance, intentional communities) with introductory comments that  are historically accurate and balanced, analysis is not this book's strength. Instead, it is the breadth of folks with whom Gurvis has corresponded, most of whom are, refreshingly, not famous. Actual hawks are present-hawks then and hawks now, the two sometimes not correlating-as are the progeny of this generation, which now seems so self-absorbed (if with the best intentions). Anyone not already personally invested in the Sixties legacy or not already familiar with its primary and secondary literature (not to mention sound and film cultural artifacts) will not be drawn in, but that leaves a very large group of readers. Recommended for academic libraries especially. —Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA   

From Publishers Weekly:
Freelance writer Gurvis chronicles the lives of dozens of aging hippies, protestors, soldiers, hawks and others "from the sixties" in this...collection of oral histories. Zeroing in on the "war at home," the political upheaval and popular unrest fueled by the Vietnam War, Gurvis also explores the musings of the Greatest Generation, their rebellious Age of Aquarius offspring, and the push back those Baby Boomers have gotten from Generations X and Y ("The Boomers tend to be idealistic, and I think that's what's causing the division in politics now."). There are some famous names here-including the late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis in one of his last interviews, Vietnam veteran and Nebraska U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, and folksinger Arlo Guthrie-but Gurvis listens to comers of every political stripe, from unwavering conservatives to those counter-culture radicals who went mainstream ("hippies in Lexuses"). ...Historical narratives...bookend most chapters....While some portraits, particularly those in the chapter "Communes and Radicals," are illuminating, not everyone merits inclusion; a judicious winnowing of the interviews would have produced a more focused, potent array of perspectives.

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From AARP, the Magazine, Web-Exclusive Book Review:
I remember the hypnotic appeal of Oliver Stone's 1991 movie The Doors—part of it due to Val Kilmer's mesmerizing reincarnation of Jim Morrison, and the rest to the tidal pull of nostalgia. It was a nostalgia all the more powerful because it involved a longing for a past that was not quite my own. Just 13 in 1968, I experienced the visionary energy of the period we call the Sixties mainly as an observer. But its ideas shaped my views, and its excitement made all the successive decades seem sadly humdrum.

How much more of a letdown life must have been for older baby boomers—for those who participated most fully in the radical politics and cultural upheavals of the time. How have they adapted? What's become of their energy and commitment? These are the provocative questions Sandra Gurvis sets out to answer in her collection of oral histories, Where Have All the Flower Children Gone?

Gurvis, unlike me, was there—in fact, she was a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on May 4, 1970, when National Guard troops gunned down student protesters at nearby Kent State ("four dead in Ohio," as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were to sing). The shootings "really fueled my passion to explain and understand this era," Gurvis writes, and the current quagmire of Iraq evoked for her the divisiveness of the Vietnam War. Fittingly then, her book begins with interviews with Guardsmen and student radicals, among them Mark Rudd and Bernadine Dohrn, and includes a chapter emphasizing comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. Former Columbia University SDS leader Rudd now calls himself "a foot soldier for peace," and onetime Weathermen refugee Dohrn notes that she's on her way to protest torture training at Fort Benning, Georgia. For balance, Gurvis interviews former campus conservatives, many of them now libertarians, about their political choices.

Much of this material is familiar enough.... Though Gurvis covers a lot of ground, she rarely gives us enough from any one person—not enough of their voice, nor their story—to create really compelling narratives. A notable exception is the story of Myra Joy Aronson, a fellow Miami University alumna, who was once photographed being dragged out of an ROTC building. Never married, she led a vibrant existence, traveling widely, going to work for a software company in Cambridge, and throwing a marvelous, multigenerational party for her 50th birthday. She died on 9/11, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. In interviews with Aronson's friends and relatives, Gurvis gives us a rich portrait not just of grief but of a life well-lived.

Aronson's fate, of course, was more dramatic than most. In chapters such as "Communes and Former Radicals: Selling Out or Stuck in Time?" and "And It's One, Two, Three: Draft Evaders, Expatriates, and Conscientious Objectors," we see how choices made in the '60s continue to mark both individuals and the culture. It's fascinating to be reminded that Twin Oaks, the Farm, and other "intentional communities" still exist, as do regular gatherings of Deadheads and others who comprise the eclectic Rainbow Family Tribe of Living Light. Even more striking are tales of the draft evaders and resisters who made their way to Canada and had to forge new identities.

In the end, though, Gurvis struggles to create a typology of baby boomers, and even with interviews of their parents and children the book remains far from the final word on the subject. Simone Spring, who settled with her draft-evader husband, Steven, in Toronto, probably summarizes the consensus best. "It was a magical time," she tells Gurvis, "and I don't regret any of it. We thought we could change the world, and I suppose we did, in a small way." Not a bad legacy. —Julia M. Klein