The 60s: A book review by Bob Morris

new-yorker-60sThe 60s: The Story of a Decade
Henry Finder, Editor
Random House (October 2016)

Here is an incomparable collective portrait of a truly galvanizing era

For more than 90 years, The New Yorker has earned and deserves its reputation as a truly unique weekly magazine that offers in each issue content of superior quality, be it fiction, non-fiction, or humorous drawings. In recent years, it has provided — in my opinion — brilliant commentaries on subjects and situations beyond the five boroughs that comprise New York City. The first issue of The New Yorker was published on February 21, 1925. It was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, a New York Times reporter. He edited the magazine until his death in 1951. Ross was succeeded as editor by William Shawn (1951–87), followed by Robert Gottlieb (1987–92) and Tina Brown (1992–98). The current editor of The New Yorker is David Remnick, who succeeded Brown in July 1998.

The 60s: The Story of a Decade is the third in a series of volumes that focus on a specific decade, viewed from a remarkably diverse range of perspectives. This one was edited by Henry Finder, with material organized within nine Parts: Reckonings, Confrontation (Civil Rights and Youth in Revolt), American Scenes (Pressure and Possibility and Shots Were Fired), Farther Shores, New Arrivals (Never Before Seen and Brief Encounters), Artists & Athletes, Critics (The Current Cinema, Art & Architecture, Television, The Theatre, Music, and Books), Poetry, and Fiction.

Remnick provides an Introductions to more than 90 pieces, suggesting that then editor William Shawn “did not look the part, and his voice was barely a whisper in a raucous time, but this book demonstrates that he, too, was a man of the turbulent sixties and that his New Yorker was equal to the moment.” These are among the contents of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the range of subjects examined:

Excerpts from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood
“Letter from a Region of My Mind,” James Baldwin
“March on Washington,” Calvin Trillin
“Notes and Comment (The Assassination of John F. Kennedy), Donald Malcolm, Lillian Ross, and E.B. White

“Letter from Washington” (The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy), Richard Rovere
“Sgt. Pepper,” Lillian Ross
“Glenn Gould,” Lillian Ross
“Ronald Reagan,” James Stevenson
“Tom Stoppard,” Geoffrey T. Hellman

“A Tilted Insight (Mike Nichols & Elaine May), Robert Rice
“Levels of the Game” (Arthur Ashe, Clark Graebner), John McPhee
“Days and Nights with the Unbored” (World Series 1969), Roger Angell
“After Man” (2001: A Space Odyssey), Penelope Gilliatt
“The Nineteen-Sixies: Time in the Museum,” Harold Rosenberg

“The Theatre Abroad: London,” Kenneth Tynan
“Our Invisible Poor” (Michael Harrington’s The Other America), Dwight Macdonald
A&P,” John Updike
The Swimmer,” John Cheever
The Key,” Isaac Bashevis Singer

Throughout the 60s, The New Yorker published material that really does “tell the story of a decade” unlike any other, an especially volatile time in the United States, what with the Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests. The 60s also saw the assassinations of U.S. President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy; the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to arrive on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission; the Woodstock music festival took place in Upper State New York and featured (among others) Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and The Who; and ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet, relayed its first communications between UCLA and Stanford. It is also noteworthy that the popular children’s television show “Sesame Street” debuted.

As Remnick correctly notes, it was during the 60s that The New Yorker became much more “politically engaged, more formally daring, more vivid, and more intellectually exciting than it had ever been or wished to be.” Since then, the best of two visions – those of Harold Ross and William Shawn –remain evident in each issue. Whatever the nature and extent of your interests may be, The New Yorker ensures that you will “read something the means something.”

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