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The 1960s Books

Robert Cohen and Reginald Zelnik, The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (2002)

This collection of essays and mini-memoirs offers a fascinating account of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. The approach taken by contributors ranges from the scholarly to the commemorative—an entire section is devoted to Mario Savio who died in 1996.

Jo Freeman, At Berkeley in the ‘60s: The Education of an Activist, 1961-1965 (2004)

Anthologies like Robert Cohen’s and Reginald Zelnik’s offer more varied analyses of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, but students might prefer this insider’s memoir. Some might find the day-by-day account of the movement tedious, others will find descriptions of the negotiations with the administration and of tensions within the movement fascinating.

Michael Harrington, The Other America (1962)

This powerful expose of poverty reportedly inspired Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to expand federal anti-poverty programs. Portions of the book, such as its discussions of diminishing real wages in the wake of declining union membership, continue to resonate a half century after its release.

David Barber, A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed (2008)

This is a balanced, complex, and interesting examination of the evolution of the Students for a Democratic Society. Central to Barber’s argument is the conclusion that the SDS failed largely because its white male leaders failed to fully understand and rise above the racism and sexism the student movement claimed to protest.

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (2003)

Readers interested in a comprehensive and authoritative biography of Kennedy should read this book by Boston University historian Robert Dallek. It is massive, but Dallek manages to maintain a strong narrative thread and spices up his account with new information about Kennedy’s notorious womanizing.

John Andrew, Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society (1999)

Readers interested in a more comprehensive and academic look at Johnson should read Robert Dallek’s 1999 biography. But readers interested in a shorter evaluation of the Great Society—its legislation, operation, and impact—should read this balanced, well-written book.

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