cover image Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties

Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties

Mike Davis and Jon Wiener. Verso, $34.95 (800p) ISBN 978-1-78478-022-7

Political activist Davis (Planet of Slums) and U.C.-Irvine emeritus history professor Wiener (Gimme Some Truth) deliver a perhaps too sprawling “movement history” of Los Angeles in the 1960s, focusing on the efforts of black and Latino youth to secure access to jobs, education, and dignity in a racially segregated and economically stratified city. Interweaving coverage of well-known events such as the 1965 Watts uprising with chapters on Asian-American political groups, women’s liberation, and LGBTQ activism, Davis and Wiener synthesize the disparate experiences of different L.A. constituencies. They cover the 1967 Century City police riot, which helped to turn public opinion against Republican mayor Sam Yorty, and a series of demonstrations collectively known as the Battle of the Sunset Strip that politicized many middle-class and white teens. Taking an eclectic, mosaic approach, the authors return often to the role of police violence in suppressing progressive activists, and the growing backlash from conservative Angelenos who helped lift Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon to national politics. Davis and Wiener write with passion and deep knowledge of their subject, but this overstuffed and often disjointed account would have benefited from tighter editing. Nevertheless, this is an indispensable portrait of an unexplored chapter in the history of American progressivism. (Apr.)