In his latest publication, William L. O'Neill presents a concise critical history of the New Left, the thinking, people, and events that helped to shape the 1960s in America, and its principal heir, the Academic Left. The first two chapters of this lively, interpretative narrative relate the history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organisation that despite such well-publicised actions as the first mass protest in Washington against the Vietnam War and the student strike that shut down Columbia University, was unable to expand beyond its student base or survive a factional split. Next covered is the theatrical Left, notably those at the head of the Yippie movement who skilfully manipulated the mainstream media to garner enormous publicity for their stunts and staged events but whose movement, like the SDS, failed to survive the decade. Chapter Four follows the major figures in the story - Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, the Weathermen, Timothy Leary and others, and sifts through various theories to conclude why and how the New Left burned out so quickly.
Finally, Chapter Five addresses the legacy of the New Left in the rise of the Academic Left, which, while riddled with ironies, remains entrenched in academe today.
William L. O Neil is a professor of history atRutgers. The State University of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hereceived his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Heis the author of numerous books, including A Democracy at War:America s Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, AmericanHigh: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960, and Coming Apart:An Informal History of America in the 1960 s. As aprofessor at the University of Wisconsin from 1966 to 1971 he hadmany contacts with New Leftists, had his classroom taken over bythem on one occasion, was threatened by a graduate student during afaculty meeting, and witnessed a riot during which students andpolice exchanged tear gas canisters with each other. Most contacts,however, were far more civil, involving the exchange of ideasrather than chemical agents.