"[Diski] recalls (sometimes hilariously) her experience of the '60s, but her emphasis is on the culture’s ideas—about drugs, sex, education, mental illness and, to a lesser extent, politics. Very little of what she says is new, but she says it with intelligence, wit, an eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to laugh at her young self while respecting that self’s hopes and efforts . . . The biggest of Diski’s big ideas is that 'liberation and libertarianism were not at all one and the same thing' . . . Diski has fascinating—and entertaining—things to say about the differences between the ’60s generation and their parents ('we really didn’t make the distinction between work and recreation that shaped our parents’ daily existence'), drugs (eventually 'getting stoned stopped feeling like I was doing something'), the sexual revolution ('sex was a way of being polite to those who suggested it or who got into your bed'), communes ('sharing the washing-up and each other’s lovers' meant 'a terrible mess and a lot of anger') and the difference between America and her native Britain ('we had only a generational war to fight'). For an American reader, this difference is striking. The civil rights and black power movements were crucial in shaping the politics of the American ’60s, providing moral energy and lessons in organizing . . . The American antiwar movement, fueled by college students at risk of being drafted, understandably had a much smaller counterpart in Britain . . . Diski says several times that she was not political, by which she seems to mean that 'I wasn’t convinced by any of the true and mutually exclusive solutions on offer . . . I failed to join anything.' But her interests in reforming schools and mental hospitals, the subjects of her best chapters, belie her claim. Struggling with depression and suicidal impulses after a horrendous childhood, Diski was hospitalized three times by the time she was 21. She discusses the anti-psychiatry movement, with which she still has some sympathy, and the ideas of R. D. Laing . . . In 1971, while training to become a teacher, she started a free school in her apartment in North London. Her account of that experience, and her critique of the radical deschooling ideas of Ivan Illich, are worth a small book themselves . . . A sense of deep disappointment pervades The Sixties. Diski concludes that the decade produced little in the way of transcendent art—'the music, however, was undeniably as great as we thought it was'— and that, contrary to the slogan, frequently 'the personal was the personal.' Although she sees some lasting effects of the '60s, and especially of gay liberation, she concludes that 'wherever you look, over the past 40 years, nationalism and capitalism have triumphed,' and that 'most of us who had the good fortune to be part of the '60s are plain discouraged.' Still, [Diski] leaves you with plenty to think about, and wanting more."—Elsa Dixler, The New York Times Book Review"In this brief volume, Diski brings the period into focus via a largely personal approach . . . Ultimately, Diski suggests, the 1960s were more about illusions than revolution. The truth is more prosaic but also more interesting: It was a period in which disposable income, easy access to education and hipster capitalism encouraged an explosion of youthful enthusiasm (and youthful self-indulgence) that, as all youth movements, existed in a bubble, willfully unaware of the complexities of adulthood or even that anyone had ever felt this way before . . . It's the measure of this book that she can simultaneously acknowledge this and embrace the messy, hopeful chaos of her own youth, in which '[n]arcissism meets the mirror stage and neither condition actually stops in infancy, especially when the times collude.'"—David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times“I like to find myself in the writing of Jenny Diski . . . The Sixties offers another insightful and accurate mirror of my particular London Mod genome, reflecting much of what I remember, and reminding me of much I had forgotten.”—Pete Townshend“The Sixties is Diski at her most characteristically brilliant.”—Financial Times“The 1960s have been over-remembered to such a degree that on sighting the perky, psychedelic cover of Jenny Diski’s book you think: why write it, let alone read it? But the answer is apparent within minutes. This book at once recalls the decade in a way that those who experienced it will recognise and is a singular rethink of that time . . . One of the many pleasures of [Diski’s] writing is that she somehow manages to be old and young at the same time . . . involving, buoyant, thought-provoking.”—The Guardian“Mordant, entertaining and shot through with her customary dry wit, Jenny Diski’s view of the sixties is free of the sentimentality which characterises so many accounts of the decade. Her London life was crossed by many of the most interesting cultural currents of the era, and in this short, personal account she looks back at her younger self with a clear eye and an open mind.”—Hari Kunzru, author of My Revolutions“A slender meditation on the 1960s—part of Picador’s Big Ideas/Small Books series. British novelist/memoirist Diski remembers the ’60s very well. If her British experiences do not always line up with those of Americans, there are abundant parallels. 'The Sixties,' she writes, 'were an idea in the minds, perhaps even more powerful than the experience, of those who were actually living through them.' In her experience, that idea broke down into many compartments, including the intellectual and artistic. She recounts being turned on to the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac, of course, but also Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Neruda, Joyce, Brecht, Weill and Beethoven, as well as Buddy Holly and the Beatles ('though I was disdainful until Rubber Soul came along'). The idea was political as well, and here Diski is particularly sharp, noting the apparent ingratitude of a generation whose parents suffered depression and war only to raise children who would reject the world that had been made for them. But only for a while. Diski is also sharp—and sharp-edged—about the rise of an entirely different mode of being in the ’70s and ’80s, when ecstatic hippies became egomaniacal yuppies and the politics became truly ugly, as all the government-off-our-backs rhetoric of the antiwar movement converted into the self-serving Hobbesianism of the libertarian crowd. An overreliance on drugs didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt as much as the just-say-no types would have it, either. Writes the author, for the benefit of the uninitiated, 'What happened when you smoked a joint and to a far greater extent when you dropped acid was that the world outside your head was utterly changed.' Though Diski sounds melancholy notes (‘young is a phase the old go through') and closes on a note of resignation, her elegant book might inspire readers—and not just those who were there—to try to remake the era anew.”—Kirkus Reviews “A teenager when the sixties counterculture hit, novelist Diski participated in most of its trends. The six chapters on the period, which she quickly points out (for those who weren’t there) spanned from the mid-1960s to no later than 1974, recall her buying the fashions, taking the drugs, having the sex, marching in the protests, teaching in a free school, and doing radical therapy. Those activities cover virtually the whole sixties program, and as the child of a dysfunctional family who’d already been through the psychiatric-penal mill, Diski was well primed for it. Assessing it all, she makes two blanket observations: as an Englishwoman, she escaped the era’s deadliest aspects because the UK wasn’t involved in Vietnam; and she and her peers could do and believe what they did because they were young—that is, ignorant and inexperienced. Now she knows the human realities on which so many sixties schemes foundered; then, however, those realities seemed surmountable obstacles. Unrepentant about her sixties self, she writes with composed clarity about a seemingly neverendingly controversial period.”—Booklist
Jenny Diski is the author of eight novels and two books of travel/memoir. Her journalism appears regularly in The London Review of Books.