Things really seem to be coming unglued in America today. Vulgarity, suspicion, and Right-Left hostility pervade our public life. Not a few thoughtful people wonder whether the American political experiment, and the liberalism that forms its foundation, can survive. I’m not sure our times are so unprecedented, myself. In the 1960s, for example, it surely must have seemed the nation would fall apart. And yet, we didn’t. A new anthology of 60’s writing from The New Yorker, published by Penguin Random House, looks interesting as a period piece–a chronicle of how the bien-pensant set saw things back then. The 60s: The Story of a Decade may offer some insights into our current condition as well. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The third installment of a fascinating decade-by-decade series, this anthology collects historic New Yorker pieces from the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century—including work by James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Sylvia Plath, Roger Angell, Muriel Spark, and John Updike—alongside new assessments of the 1960s by some of today’s finest writers.
Here are real-time accounts of these years of turmoil: Calvin Trillin reports on the integration of Southern universities, E. B. White and John Updike wrestle with the enormity of the Kennedy assassination, and Jonathan Schell travels with American troops into the jungles of Vietnam. The murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the fallout of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Six-Day War: All are brought to immediate and profound life in these pages.
The New Yorker of the 1960s was also the wellspring of some of the truly timeless works of American journalism. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time all first appeared in The New Yorker and are featured here. The magazine also published such indelible short story masterpieces as John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” and John Updike’s “A & P,” alongside poems by Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
The arts underwent an extraordinary transformation during the decade, one mirrored by the emergence in The New Yorker of critical voices as arresting as Pauline Kael and Kenneth Tynan. Among the crucial cultural figures profiled here are Simon & Garfunkel, Tom Stoppard, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Muhammad Ali (when he was still Cassius Clay).
The assembled pieces are given fascinating contemporary context by current New Yorker writers, including Jill Lepore, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Remnick. The result is an incomparable collective portrait of a truly galvanizing era.