Coming apart: an informal history of America in the 1960s by William L O’Neill

Reading Time: < 1 minute

When I read William O’Neill’s book Coming Apart, it reminded me of a definition of art not being something that looks like its subject, but IS its subject. O’Neill’s book is the very personal account of the 1960s putting into perspective the events that occurred with the perspective that only someone who lived through them could do. He dissects the new journalism of Tom Wolfe and explains the history and development of different subject areas from sport, the civil rights movement to the counter-cultural movements.

It provides context about why seemingly innocuous events were so influential. O’Neill also explains how marginalised and small the hippie movement and black power movements really were in their respective communities.

O’Neill’s background as a history professor  at Rutgers University gives Coming Apart a studied learned viewpoint. But he also manages to write in an easy accessible way: a kind of learned oral history. This provides the unique charm of the book.

The views and changes reflected in the book still reverberate through our world today. From the fashion for wearing military surplus clothes to music of the folk revival that the likes of Bruce Springsteen still reference and the counterculture values that sit at the centre of the technology industry. For instance, Apple would be nothing without the ethos of its hippie founders. More book reviews here.