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Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House Reprint Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812974751
ISBN-10: 0812974751
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Although typically defining themselves in opposition to dominant cultures--hence the name--countercultures through history have more in common with each other than previously supposed. In fact, argues this book, breaking with tradition is itself a longstanding tradition, distinguished by Promethean antiauthority impulses, often accompanied by some sort of libertine humanism and individualism (although often conflicted about the merits of technology). Less a history of movements than of moments, Goffman's narrative hits Socrates and Sufism, among select others, en route to a more detailed parsing of the various countercultural moments of the twentieth century; at times, it reads reminiscent of an old-fashioned intellectual history, mapping influences catalyzed in heady Paris or Haight-Ashbury. Yet Goffman steers clear of overtheorizing, keeps readers hooked with hip contemporary comparisons (declaring Calvin Coolidge the Reagan of the early 1900s, for example), and, for decorum's sake, keeps his evident zeal for certain figures (Timothy Leary, for example, a posthumous contributor to this book) more or less in check. Always engaging, often inspiring, and certainly not just for nostalgic boomers. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“In an age of corporate cool-hunting and target-marketed faux rebellion, along comes an inspirational work of scholarship to remind us of just how beyond ‘cool’ true rebels really are, and have always been. I am forever grateful to Ken Goffman for serving as my first guide through the starlit mire of countercultural thought and activity. Read this book, by all means. He knows his way around.”
–DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, author of Cyberia, Media Virus, Ecstasy Club, and Nothing Sacred

“I read Ken Goffman’s least musings with utterly focused, indeed almost reverent attention.”
–BRUCE STERLING, author of The Zenith Angle and Tomorrow Now

“Being of the same energy field myself, I now throw a sack full of gold dust into the arena and dare anyone to be either funnier or smarter than this R. U. Sirius.”

“This is a brilliant book. R. U. Sirius lived and created the cyberpunk culture in the 1980s. Now he and coauthor Dan Joy have written a sweeping history of countercultures through the ages, starting with the myth that still helps define our relationship with technology, that of the fire-snatching hacker Prometheus. Defying authority with creative edge has been a powerful force throughout history, and R. U. Sirius captures the magic with the authentic insight of someone who's been a rider on that wave.”
-Walter Isaacson, former chairman and ceo of CNN, author of Benjamin Franklin: an American Life

"Edge-thinker and media rabble-rouser Ken Goffman has done us all a great service with his entertaining and enlightening book Counterculture Through the Ages. With passion and wry humor, Goffman unfurls a secret history of rebels, ranters, mystics, and bohos united by their distrust of authority. By placing more recent social struggles in this juicy (and sometimes hilarious) context, Goffman and coauthor Dan Joy reveal the deeper dimensions of our current quest for freedom and fun in a shrinking world of surveillance and control."
-Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; Reprint edition (September 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974751
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase

I found this book in an airport, and bought it for three reasons: 1) because Bruce Sterling plugged it; 2) because my 15-year old is well on his way to being part of the emerging counter-culture; and 3) because I do believe that "power to the people" is now imminent--not if, but when.

It starts slow, quickly improves by page 50, and as I put down the book I could not help but think, "tour de force." This is both a work of scholarship and an advanced commentary that puts counter-culture movements across history into a most positive context.

Across the ages, the common currency of any counter-culture is the will to live free of constraints, limiting the impositions of authority. Indeed, it is very hard not to put this book down with an altered appreciation for hippies, war protesters and civil rights activists, for the book makes it clear that they are direct intellectual, cultural, and emotional descendants of both Socrates and the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson.

From Socrates to Taoism, Zen, Sufis, Troubadours, the Enlightenment, the Americans, Bohemian Paris, and into the 1950's through the 1970's, the author's broad brush review of the history of counter-culture in all its forms is helpful to anyone interested in how the next twenty years might play out.

The bottom line is clear: we need the counter-culture, and it is time for this century's culture hackers--of whom Stewart Brand may be the first--along with the author--to rise from their slumber.

Some side notes:

1) An underlying theme, not fully brought out, is that anything in excess or without balance can be harmful. Absolute dictatorship by religions is as bad as absolute secular dictatorship.
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Format: Hardcover
Here Ken Goffman (apparently coauthor Dan Joy worked at the conceptual level only) has created a fast-moving and fascinating discussion of countercultures throughout history and what they have in common. The most interesting aspect of this book is the locating of ancient groups, like followers of Socrates and even the original Jews, that fit the modern definition of counterculture. Goffman even includes the Enlightenment thinkers of Europe, who even though they ended up being the establishment, definitely started out by countering the dominance and dogma of the Catholic Church. Goffman finds that these and modern countercultures, such as hippies and ravers, share an anti-authoritarian worldview and a love for individualism and nonconformity, which are central to the human condition in all regions, time periods, and political environments.

Unfortunately there are some problems with this book, inherent in the methods followed by Goffman and Joy. Goffman states in the introduction that it would be impossible to describe all the countercultures the world has ever seen, so representative examples have been chosen that most illustrate the basic arguments being advanced. This works reasonably well, to the extent described in the last paragraph, but still leads to a somewhat distracting sense of arbitrary and fragmented history. More specifically, the inevitable coverage of the hippie/new left movements of the 60s and 70s is highly politicized and personalized (not a problem for most of the rest of the book), and Goffman even accidentally says "we" a few times when describing the countercultural participants of that and the current era, damaging the observational integrity of some portions of the book.
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Format: Paperback
I'll present some minor nitpicking at the end of this review. But I'll start on a very positive note; this is a fascinating, fact-filled and very well written, readable book. It would be perfect for a high school or freshmen college literature/sociology class, showing as it does the important role that non-conformity can play in the development of cultures.

Authors Ken Goffman and Dan Joy begin with an overview of countercultures, characterizing the counterculture goal as seeking "...primarily to live with as much freedom from constraints on individual creative will as possible, wherever and however it is possible to do so." The authors argue that countercultures should not characterized by their thoughts or beliefs but by how their thoughts and beliefs are actually lived and in particular, how they are manifested by action of the moment, or spontaneity. I thought the first ten chapters had a good balance between ideas and actions, starting with the ancient myths of Prometheus and Abraham, followed by the ideas and lifestyle of Socrates, the naturalistic beliefs and mode of living of the early Taoists, the intuitive philosophy and meditative nature of Zen, Emerson's ideas on the Enlightenment...and so on up to the acid-heads and punk cultures of contemporary times.

There seemed to be an excessive focus, towards the end of `Countercultures', on the music of the countercultures and much less discussion on the ideas. As a result, the discussion on recent countercultures, like the punk movement, come across as simply immature anger. This segues into a critical, but too short, overview of countercultures in which the authors note that recent counterculture movements have tended to be very naive in their expectations of how they can change the world.
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