by francine Hardaway on January 2, 2008

Tom Brokaw’s book about the sixties, “Boom,” is probably too much of a good thing.  It’s 600 pages long, and it tells a story of the formative decade of American life that contained the assasination of Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, the women’s movement, and the ascendancy of rock and roll.

So much happened in the sixties that if you grew up during them, as I did, you were “in the weeds” and never had any real perspective.  It took me years to make sense of my own life, and reading Brokaw’s book causes me to re-think it once again.

I wasn’t who I thought I was. I thought I was a radical, taking part in demonstrations against the War and smoking dope while reading the Metaphysical poets. I thought I was a student revolutionary, laying on the floor, gazing at the ceiling and listening to the Beatles.

But I wasn’t. I was a woman who 1)was offered a chance to go to Columbia Law School and be a pioneer woman lawyer and rejected it to stay in  graduate school longer with her boyfriend, 2)got married right after college and followed her husband to a second-rate school, abandoning a fellowship to Stanford, 3)had a baby instead of an abortion 4)worked every day of her life without ever identifying with the woman’s movement, and 4)was clearly the offspring of liberal, New York Jews who encouraged rather than thwarted rebellion.

I was in a transitional era. But I didn’t have to rebel against anything, because my parents had already done that for me.  My mother was a member of something called “The Workman’s Circle,” which was seen as connected to the communist party in the fifties.  My father was a lawyer for the baker’s union until he entered show business and became an advocate for the intellectual property and civil rights of black entertainers. My father encouraged me to “have a profession,” without drawing the distinction that I was a girl.  Unlike Tom Brokaw, who great up in South Dakota, I grew up in New York City, and my parents very certainly smoked dope before I did.

So when the sixties came along, I just plugged right in. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona (about the time the Brokaws were moving to New York) that I discovered how the other half lived. To me, the sixties were about liberation; to him they were about the destruction of the New Deal Democratic coalition and the rise of the conservative movement.   Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

A book like “Boom” is good for me, because Tom Brokaw’s shock and awe when he discovered the Haight and the anti-war movement are a lens through which to reconsider my own past and that of my country. If you were alive during that time, you ought to read it — just to see what happened :-)

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