Set the Night on Fire
Mike Davis, Jon Wiener
Histories of the US sixties invariably focus on New York City, but Los Angeles was an epicenter of that decade’s political and social earthquake. L.A. was a launchpad for Black Power-where Malcolm X and Angela Davis first came to prominence and the Watts uprising shook the nation-and home to the Chicano walkouts and Moratorium, as well as birthplace of ‘Asian America’ as a political identity, base of the antiwar movement, and of course, centre of California counterculture.
Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research, scores of interviews with principal figures of the 1960s movements, and personal histories (both Davis and Wiener are native Los Angelenos). Following on from Davis’s award-winning L.A. history, City of Quartz, Set the Night on Fire is a fascinating historical corrective, delivered in scintillating and fiercely elegant prose.
"A richly detailed portrait of a city that seethed with rebellious energy." - Kirkus Reviews "The great task of L.A,. In the 60s is to remedy the erasures of the black, brown and queer activists who put their bodies on the line. Mike Davis and Jon Wiener remind us that what there is of progressivism in the city today (we can debate how much) has a very deep history of struggle against unforgiving reactionary forces. Revolutionary artist-nuns, educator-organizers and free-jazz visionaries are just a few of a vast cast of characters that together paint a stirring portrait of a visionary Los Angeles ever-emerging from the shadows of the old order. It's high time radical L.A. came out of the closet. This book blows the door wide open. Viva Los Angeles Libre!" - Ruben Martinez, author of Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape "This huge and exhilarating work of history aims to restore some depth and accuracy to how we talk about Los Angeles in the 1960s ... Davis and Wiener have created an important book to read in a time where LA needs more than ever to be mobilized." - John Freeman, Lit Hub, Most Anticipated Books of 2020 "The familiar, monochromatic picture of Los Angeles in the sixties-all Hollywood pop and Didion ennui-required a million people of African, Asian, and Mexican ancestry to be 'edited out of utopia,' as Mike Davis and Jon Wiener put it. What those people actually did, alongside antiwar feminists, high school students, and others, is the heart of this book, and it's a big heart. No one could tell these intersecting stories better than Davis and Wiener, and their book gives us back a great city's greatness in its movements, edges, and other centers, so many of them forgotten." - Rebecca Solnit, author of Recollections of My Nonexistence "From the Ash Grove to Aztlan, from the Valley to Vietnam, it's all here. In showing how struggles for free health care, adequate housing, functional schools, racial and sexual liberation, new forms of creativity, and the human right of freedom from brutal police violence came together into a mighty torrent, Wiener and Davis have written a revolutionary history for an age of continuing contradictions." - Daniel Widener, author of Black Arts West "This is not the theme park of mansions, beaches, and glitzed-up noir, but the undercity of outsiders struggling to get out from under the savage police to stake out a place in the sun. A rare and necessary saga of unsung heroes, vicious authorities, and unpunished crimes." - Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties "This is history from below, in the very best sense. A magnificent mural of the local sixties, written with verve and passion by two of my favorite locals." - Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Natural Causes "Set the Night on Fire fixes on one mission-collate the stories of emancipation struggle in '60s LA-and runs with it, using document research to complete the job. This is the approach Davis has been using in the twenty-first century, and it works." - Sasha Frere-Jones, Bookforum "An indispensable portrait of an unexplored chapter in the history of American progressivism." - Publishers Weekly "Insightful and innovative ... Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties is both a fierce political and cultural history and a geographic corrective." - William Deverell, Alta "Authoritative and impressive ... Set the Night on Fire is an essential reference to L.A.'s rich history of civil unrest, with a hopeful undercurrent. Movements can and often do force change." - Erik Himmelsbach-Weinstein, Los Angeles Times "A monumental history of rebellion and resistance." - Los Angeles Review of Books "Combining comprehensive, mineshaft-deep research with unique firsthand knowledge, [Davis and Wiener's] recounting of the radical '60s in Los Angeles will likely not be surpassed." - Jerald Podair, Los Angeles Review of Books "Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties is a book as vast as the city itself." - Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch "Monumental. ... For new generations growing up in a city whose very history is rarely acknowledged to exist, Set the Night on Fire is a vital primer in resistance, a gift to the future from the past." - Ben Ehrenreich, Guardian "These are war stories, the intended audience of which is the young organizers of today, many of them the children and grandchildren of his friends and heroes in the sixties." - Dana Goodyear, New Yorker "Anyone familiar with Mike Davis's magisterial social history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz, will know what to expect in terms of the epic sweep and questioning tone of Set the Night on Fire. This time, the focus is firmly on race and rebellion, but he and Wiener also map out the myriad protest movements, countercultural voices and campaigns that made 1960s Los Angeles an altogether more edgy and volatile city than the state's hippy capital, San Francisco." - Sean O'Hagan, Observer
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