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America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's    by Laban Carrick Hill order for
America Dreaming
by Laban Carrick Hill
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In America Dreaming, Laban Carrick Hill, author of the excellent Harlem Stomp, brings us a similar - and just as well done - coffee-table sized retrospective on the 60s, a period when young people dreamed of a better world and felt empowered to try to make it happen. This pivotal generation took on big issues from civil rights and the women's movement to the Vietnam war and environmental pollution.

Hill tells us that, rather than being a tale of extremes and excess, 'The real story of the '60s depicts the largest generation in American history coming of age in an unprecedented period of economic growth, and questioning the very basis of our government, culture, and economy.' The author leads us through this era of 'seismic change', telling a 'story of the power and optimism of young people building a world in their own image.' He guides us from Romper Room in the '50s through the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the first moon landing, Beatlemania, Mad Magazine, Woodstock, Laugh-In, Kent State, Black Power, and the first Earth Day. In addition to informative text, the book is filled with color posters and wonderful photographs, and a chronology at the back sums up major events in the era.

We are so used to the United States being a superpower that it was almost shocking to be reminded that when John F. Kennedy came to power, the country had just come through 'the greatest economic expansion in the world's history. The United States had moved from a backward, third-rate power before World War II to the most powerful nation in the free world.' I hadn't realized that it was his presidency that established both the Peace Corps and the Army Special Forces, an interesting juxtaposition. This was also when television began to dominate leisure time. And young boomers embraced political or cultural radicalism - as Bob Dylan perceptively sang: 'For the times they are a-changin'.' Of the Watts riots in '65 Los Angeles, Hill tells us that 'What White America did not understand was the overwhelming despair that people who lived in ghettos like Watts felt' - a comment just as applicable to the West's lack of understanding of other parts of the world today.

The author sums it all up at the end in Making a Rainbow: A Legacy of Progress, saying that 'The era of the Sixties exposed many fault lines in our culture and gave voice to many who had none previously.' Reading America Dreaming made me recall the excitement and turmoil of the era. Though often misguided, sixties youth cared, asked questions, and put their futures on the line. I have often wondered, where are those young people today? Laban Carrick Hill concludes his wonderful retrospective by suggesting that 'The lesson learned from the '60s was that all people - young, old, and in between - could make a difference.' A good lesson to remember and America Dreaming is a great book for anyone who lived through this transformative time - while aimed at the YA audience, it works just as well for adults and will fascinate anyone in the boomer generation.

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