In reviewing this book, I found it hard to separate my views of the sixties from my views about the book. I hope I have succeeded.
The book is comprised of photographic images done by Richard Avedon and snippets of interviews with many of the subjects done by Doon Arbus, daughter of photographer Diane Arbus. The people portrayed in the book include the more bizarre public figures of that age. Their photographs speak eloquently about their lives and mental states. Their words have a hard time being as eloquent, because many of the people had few thoughts.
In evaluating the book, I saw two significant weaknesses. First, I looked for who was missing. The book nods much more heavily to the counterculture than to the main culture. As a result, the story of the Sixties is biased by its focus, and misses the opportunity for making more interesting comparisons. If I were to show this to my children (which I would not do because of the material in it), they would get a highly inaccurate view of the sixties. Second, I looked for the quality of the photography. Clearly, there were some great photographs, but there were lots of pretty ordinary ones. Combining these perspectives caused me to grade the book down one star.
The best part of the book was some "before" and "after" photography and interviewing with Bob Dylan. The before and after photographs of Frank Zappa were also interesting. Had the volume developed this theme more, it would have been much more valuable. Those who were the counterculture icons of the age could tell us a lot about the sixties by describing how they have changed.
Midst the images of race, war, protest, sex, drugs, and rock, I would be remiss if I did not point out which Avedon photographs moved me. These included images of Louise Nevelson, Dao Dua, Paul McCartney, Dorothy Day, George Wallace with Jimmy Davis (his valet), Cesar Chavez, James Baldwin, a Napalm victim, and Truman Capote. Avedon drew from their souls into mine very powerfully. These photographs were very impressive. In fact, they were so impressive that they made the others seem more bare and uninspiring, which was undoubtedly part of the editorial purpose.
If you were alive during the sixties, I suggest that you create your own annotated scrapbook of that period to share with your children and grandchildren. They will be enriched by your sharing of the images that were important to you, and what you thought about those images then . . . and what you think about them now. In this way, you may be able to successful transmit what was good about the sixties while discouraging what was not so good.