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Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Historian McMillian (The New Left Revisited) turns the clock back to the college radicals who shaped the influential underground press to give voice to the disfranchised, in his highly detailed book. These newspapers, reflecting the soul of the counterculture, kept readers informed during the late 1960s through the early 1970s on campuses and in cities, protesting the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, gay and women's rights. McMillian is at his critical best when he examines the history of the papers that led the youthful resistance, including the Los Angeles Free Press, the East Village Other, the Berkeley Barb, and The Rag. Not only does he show the rich yet erratic contribution of the publications and their founders, but he reveals FBI Director Hoover's plots against them, employing infiltrators, wiretaps, forged documents, and smear campaigns. Using prime examples of the radical press services attacked by the feds, McMillian has contributed a solid and informed commentary on the New Left's independent press. (Mar.)
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"A lucid new work by a promising young media historian, Georgia State University's John McMillan...Suitable for scholars, graduate students, and aging hippies everywhere."
"The story that John McMillian tells in Smoking Typewriters and the lessons he implies are at once admonitory and inspirational; this is a work of serious scholarship that suggests both a call to resurgent action and a demand that people do better next time."
--Roz Kaveney, Times Literary Supplement
"Exploring the variety of cultures that produced the papers as well as documenting how the papers reshaped their communities as they connected young people across the country, McMillian offers fascinating portraits of many colorful characters while also developing a temporal narrative tracing the rise and fall of the newspapers and the youth movement they chronicledEL.Those who teach the sixties, protest history, or journalism history are indebted to McMillian for providing a readable chronicle of this critical moment when words fired minds and were, themselves, a form of action."
"Readable, richly detailed study of the hundreds of anti-establishment 1960s newspapers . . . A welcome book on the '60s--a nostalgia trip for those who were there and a vivid work of history for anyone curious about the journalism that jolted a decade."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"This tour d'horizon of the 60s underground press is a tour de force...a compact, sharply-etched, and well-informed recollection of the rebellious young journalists whose voices and views breached the high walls of Mainstream Media long before the current Internet-savvy generation rushed in to finish off to what remains of Conventional-Wisdom-based reporting. Seen with fresh eyes by a talented young scholar, Smoking Typewriters tells an important-and entertaining-story about modern American culture and its endless upheavals."
--Richard Parker, Harvard University
"Thoroughly researched and well-written, this book will serve as the definitive treatment of the radical and alternative media of the 1960s. While telling his story, much of it both exciting and tragic, John McMillian confronts crucial issues-questions about objectivity and democratic activism-with verve and insight."
--Kevin Mattson, author of "What the Heck are You Up To, Mr. President?"
"John McMillian's meticulous scholarship delves into the rambunctious, chaotic world of the counterculture weeklies that sprang up around the country, and mostly imploded, in the era of Vietnam, rock, psychedelics and pot. Smoking Typewriters (the witty title was a gift from Allen Ginsberg) explores the ambitions and private demons of several leading figures in the alternative press, notably Ray Mungo, Marshall Bloom, and Tom Forcade. The author parses-no easy task-the dizzily fractured political and sexual rebellions promoted by the founders, writers and cartoonists of the cheaply produced, offset, raggedy papers that thumbed a collective nose at The Establishment as they grooved on their beleaguered 'underground' status. I think he gets it right. This book is an enlightening contribution to a nation that still has not come to terms with The Sixties."
--Susan Brownmiller, author of In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution
"John McMillian's Smoking Typewriters is as vivid, subtle, and scrupulous as the '60s upheaval, in all its audacity and weirdness, deserves."-Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
"The forgotten cradle of today's 'indymedia' and blogosphere was the Underground Press of the Sixties revolution, an autonomous journalistic culture of writers, critics, poets and political radicals who were the connecting tissue for our generation. John McMillian succeeds in bringing their story back to life in this well-researched history."-Tom Hayden
"McMillian is at his critical best when he examines the history of the papers that led the youthful resistance. A solid and informed commentary on the New Left's independent press."
"Meticulously researched and richly written with humor, tragedy, and grace, this book will find a home on the shelves of those interested in the New Left movement, free press, the youth culture of the 1960s, and the history of the underground press in America."
"[A] thrilling historical narrative . . . McMillian brings this crucial story alive for a new generation." --Austin American-Statesman
"[A] fast-moving narrative about the birth, the death, and the second life of the newspapers that were spawned by the upheavals of the 1960s and that were also spurred on by those upheavals . . . McMillian puts readers in the cockpit of the era. He conjures up the radical style, the exuberant mood, and the bravado -- no mean feat given the fact that he wasn't there to live it himself. An historian, he looks back at the era with the benefit of hindsight and with a certain detachment, too, that enables him to tell the story without aiming to grind obvious ideological axes." --The Rag Blog
"[An] outstanding new book . . . Smoking Typewriters is a fascinating read and a meticulously well-researched book, describing the time in American history, the personalities, and the economics that allowed the alt-press to flourish . . . Anyone interested in the role of media in modern history will want to read Smoking Typewriters."
"Smoking Typewriters clearly illustrates what has changed, and what has stayed the same, making it a must-read for anyone who wants context on today's IT-fueled freedom fights." --East Bay Express
"Meticulously researched and richly written with humor, tragedy, and grace." --Library Journal
"[A] lively chronicle of the dedication, ecstasies, nuttiness, pathologies, and generational cockiness of the 1960s left that the decade's underground press reported and embodied." --The American Prospect
"It's hard not to get swept up in this engaging history of a bygone era in publishing."
--Time Out Chicago
"History books rarely speak as trenchantly to contemporary issues as McMillian's Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America. As the cascading revolts in the Muslim world demonstrate, communication systems matter . . . Smoking Typewriters is as much a history of the '60s as it is of the era's 'alternative media,' a phrase we hear a lot these days (if you replace 'alternative' with 'independent'). It often seems like there is nothing new to learn about the '60s, but McMillian provides a fresh history by putting the role of media at the center. He helps us better understand the decade by providing a window into the institutions this anti-institutional generation built."
--In These Times
"[An] amply researched, intelligent and admirably even-handed chronicle . . . McMillian, much to his credit, never falls off the cliff in his general admiration for the radicals; he's careful to point out that people on either side of the aisle might see events differently without being exactly wrong or right. Also, he points out that underground leaders weren't without biases of their own . . . a valuable book that connects the dots from then to now, from underground to alternative to blogosphere, filling in an important part of America's cultural history along the way." --Free Times (Columbus, SC)
"There have been at least a gazillion histories written of the 1960s, but John McMillian's latest, Smoking Typewriters, ... is one of the best. Many chroniclers louse up their tales of freak history by neglecting the subject's inherently subversive humor. McMillian's academic background and meticulous research are impressive, but he also knows when to let readers have fun while they're getting smarter." --High Times
"[B]risk and illuminating . . . Smoking Typewriters offers a compelling argument that the underground press was one of the New Left's most important counterinstitutions . . . Thanks to adroit writing as well as engaging source material, Smoking Typewriters is a lively read that should be of strong interest to historians of the 1960s, journalism, and American political movements across a range of disciplines."
--The Journal of American History
"McMillian has done something valuable. Smoking Typewriters is a diligent work of history, and its toggling between numerous close-ups and the occasional wide shots adds up to an impressive montage of the period." --Dissent
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Top Customer Reviews
In recent times, the internet created the opportunity for Blogging which expanded and democratized contemporary political dialogue. Similarly, technological change in the 60s, in the form of photo-offset printing, made newspaper production cheap and easy. "For just a couple hundred dollars, one could print several thousand copies of an eight- or sixteen-page tabloid." This change made the Underground Press possible. McMillian shows how and why it developed. He starts with an examination of the early histories of local papers such as the LA Free Press, The Paper of East Lansing and the Rag from Austin. He moves to an analysis of the the rise of the Liberation News Service, which centralized newsgathering and dissemination nationally. Along the way, we see how traditional media and the Underground Press covered events such as the Columbia University Riots, the March on the Pentagon, the Stones Concert at Altamont and the Great Banana Hoax of 1967.
This new source of information and analysis had to overcome government disruption and the challenges of creating a product through participatory democracy in order to become what cultural critic Louis Menand called "one of the most spontaneous and aggressive growths in publishing history." McMillian believes the UG press was critical to the growth of a sense of identity in the counterculture. "Underground newspapers," he argues, "began contributing mightily to the New Left's sense that it stood at the heart of a new society." He shows how a local left-wing or avant-garde community provided the market and impetus for a radical paper and how, in turn, the paper accelerated the development of the community that birthed it. The author also demonstrates how these papers not only reported the news of the New Left community but, in some cases, created situations out of which the news emerged.
The book succeeds in adding to our understanding of the events of the 60s. It also has value in demonstrating how even a minor disruptive change in technology such as development of photo-offset can have immense impact on political dialogue. Finally, Smoking Typewriters provides an additional historical example of how media influences as well as reports events. To help achieve these goals, the author has assembled an impressive bibliography which includes interviews and correspondence with participants, Document Collections (SDS records, Student Protest files), University papers (Columbia, Amherst, University of Michigan), Underground press and Alternative Media collections.
This is a good initial analysis: succinct, grounded in research and well written. I would recommend especially to people interested in Sixties history and in the role of media in contemporary America.
McMillan's book is balanced and thoughtful. Neither a fawning homage nor a nasty attack, Smoking Typewriters It is what good scholarship is supposed to be. It's also a great read. Some contemporary critics of the underground press are just jealous they weren't smoking dope, getting laid, and attending rock concerts like those of us in the underground press.
Yes there were drugs, sex, and rock & roll in the underground press, but there was occasionally some darn good journalism leaping from the pages, and we helped build a movement for progressive social change that shifted society toward more democracy, equality, and just plain fun. McMillian analyzes this sociological synergy in Smoking Typewriters in prose never is dull even when slyly inserting the intellectual stuff.
While writing the book McMillan came to use the archive where I work at Political Research Associates, and I was hoping the book would be worth the wait. It is.