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The Untold Sixties - When hope was born an Insider’s Sixties on an International Scale

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Published by: Cross-Cultural Research Projects
ISBN: 978-0-9823178-0-8 Pbk
722 pages
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Alex Gross photoWhen Alex Gross suggested that I review his book, I told him about my misgivings: I was not in the US during the 60s, I've never participated in radical political movements, and know nothing or almost nothing about most things Alex is an expert in—art, theater, journalism, and Chinese medicine, among other things. He sent me the book anyway and, to my surprise, I found it spellbinding to the point that I could barely force myself to put it down before I had gone through its 700 pages.

The Untold Sixties is an account of those turbulent times, told by a leader of and active participant in the counterculture movement.
The Untold Sixties is an account of those turbulent times, told by a leader of and active participant in the counterculture movement. He takes us from London to Berlin to Amsterdam to New York, presenting us with a fascinating set of characters and events most of us have only read about, viewed with a journalist's analytical eyes, the polyglot translator's sensitivity, and a participant's passion. And, while doing so, he makes interesting comparisons between the peoples involved, their cultures, their languages, and their different approaches to similar problems: the British with their keen sense of class and of "proper behaviour," the Germans with their rational mindset and organizational talent, the Dutch, tolerant and practical, and the Americans with their independent thinking and individualism. Alex does not indulge in stereotypes, but analyzes each nation's idiosyncrasies from a historical perspective, showing how those idiosyncrasies influenced their respective movements and their outcomes. The reader shouldn't be fooled by Alex's characterization of himself as a "countercultural agent." He is deeply steeped not only in contemporary Western culture, but also in the Greco-Roman classics, Hindu mysticism, and Chinese traditional medicine.

Born in the US, but with European roots and relatives in Britain, Alex is highly sensitive to the linguistic and cultural differences between the two countries. He confesses to having studied British English as a foreign language, since he found the differences to go much deeper than the semantics of some individual words. He illustrates these differences with an example of asking for directions in the two countries separated by a common language. In America you would say:

"Which way is Fifth Avenue?"

or, more politely,

"Excuse me, which way is Fifth Avenue?"

while you may get away with

"Fifth Avenue?"

In contrast, the accepted way to make a similar query in London would be something like

"I beg your pardon. I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but I wonder if I could possibly trouble you to inform me as to how I might find Leicester Square?"

While Alex views and relates the events of the 60s and the participants in those events mainly from the perspective of an artist organizing and leading artists' movements, we also get a glimpse of the larger stage of headline-making events like the disturbances in Berlin in June 1967 and the Kent State shootings in the US in May 1970, and the way the respective youth movements handled those events. Without hiding his sympathies for the radical causes of the period, Alex condemns violence on both sides of the barricades and compares favorably the Germans' non-violent response to police brutality with the uncompromising (and ultimately counterproductive) radicalization that took place in the US after the events of Kent State. Also, while he is no fan of traditional US-style capitalism, neither does he have any illusions about Soviet totalitarianism, which he experienced first-hand during his visits to East Berlin.

The book is rich in references and links not only to different pages of the author's website, but also to websites of other players, both living and dead, in the events he describes. A Who's Who briefly identifies the individuals mentioned in the book, and an Index makes it easy to find topics by keywords.

One chapter toward the end of the book was written by Alex's companion of many years, Ilene Astrahan (who, by the way, is responsible for the design of the book's cover), who gives us a woman's perspective of the 60s radical movements and issues.

While most of the book was written in the 70s, shortly after the main events it describes, the final chapters are of recent coinage, making reference to Barack Obama's election in November 2008. One of these chapters is devoted to a comparison of the 60s' issues to those of today, as well as to some predictions of which of those issues may become relevant in the 21st century and how they may be solved.

While the 700+-page bulk of the book is intimidating at first glance, it is easy to read thanks to the large typeface used and the short chapters into which it is subdivided. Was it formatted with the aging eyewitnesses of the 60s in mind?

In summary, Alex's book is a must read for those interested in the radical movements of the 60s in Europe and in America, as seen by one of their leaders. Given the author's background, we cannot expect absolute detachment and objectivity in his report, but his profound analysis of people and events and occasional self-deprecating remarks about his own actions lend the book credibility and authenticity.

Published - May 2010


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