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Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  85 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
How did the New Left uprising of the 1960s happen? What caused millions of young people-many of them affluent and college educated-to suddenly decide that American society needed to be completely overhauled? In Smoking Typewriters, historian John McMillian shows that one answer to these questions can be found in the emergence of a dynamic underground press in the 1960s. Fo ...more
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published February 17th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2011)
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Mar 12, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it
Having lived through the later part of the era covered most intensively in this excellent and well-researched history, I did not find a lot of situations where I could provide first-person verification. But I love it when books I read quote friends of mine, and there were plenty. By the time I got to DC to run the College Press Service in 70, the upsurge of underground papers was peaking, the reaction was beginning. Nevertheless, I felt waves of nostalgia and recognition as episode after episode ...more
Steve Kemple
Oct 07, 2011 Steve Kemple rated it really liked it
I knew going into it that the ending would be sad, that the flourishing of the underground press was brief, and it ultimately would fizzle out along with the era's idealism. I expected I would geek out on the scholarly treatment of counterculture bibliography & that I would probably find myself compelled to spend some time with the Alternative Press Index. What I didn't expect was to find emotional attachments to the characters. McMillian treats Raymond Mungo and Marshall Bloom, co-founders ...more
Dale Brumfield
Apr 06, 2013 Dale Brumfield rated it it was amazing
A brilliant and scholarly look at the New Left Movement in America from 1964 into the early 1970s. Some would argue McMillian belabors points to death but I found the duplicating documentation necessary, with so much of the movement dependent on human memory. Engaging and smart. Highly recommended.
Jan 04, 2012 Oriana marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
From Kirkus: "Like the best concert posters, the jacket to McMillian’s account of the underground ’60s press makes us want to start a band, break something or set something on fire. In short, it’s a fitting image to a riotous decade that kicked off one of journalism’s most useful little bastards—the alternative press, which is sadly dying a painful death as we speak. Lest we only get our news from CNN or gossip sites, let us remember there was a time when hardscrabble rabble-rousers pissed off c ...more
Jul 18, 2011 Bryna rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book seemed a little discombobulated to me, but it did shine a light on an interesting little part of history that I didn't really know about - the 1960s and the underground papers that tried to be crazy, politically provocative, and ultimately kind of destroyed themselves. It had a lot of interesting anecdotes about '60s life in general, as you might expect, like a drug scare involving bananas! So this book is fun to read for the nostalgia trip alone.
Apr 12, 2011 Vince rated it liked it
Decent history of the genre. To much emphasis on the LNS and the national connection. WOuld have been better with more input from local writers and artists. Outside of a brief mention of Crumb and a few others the art end is completely forgotten.
Michael Norwitz
May 26, 2014 Michael Norwitz rated it really liked it
I've read about the underground press before, but mainly some of the high points (like Krassner's Realist); this is a history of the movement of transgressive journalism that flourished in the 60s and early 70s. It takes the movement from its founding prompted by the popular dissemination of mimeograph machines, through its dissipation into the 'alternative' weeklies and includes a mention of the next generations punk zines. Highly informative and while I would have liked to have seen more actua ...more
Jan 15, 2014 Jason rated it it was amazing
McMillian draws from a range of sources — interviews, correspondence, newsletters and publications and subsequent secondary research — to provide a very readable history of an important period in American print culture, especially with regard to the New Left and radical American politics. An important thread running through the book is the open participation of the writers of the underground press in their Movements, which predates the peak years of zines and of course, Web-based concepts like “ ...more
Sep 13, 2014 Brendan rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, if you have any interest in media and the Sixties, this should be in your to-read pile. Arranged more topically than chronologically, the work presented here is fascinating and inspiring.
D.M. Dutcher
May 16, 2014 D.M. Dutcher rated it did not like it
Scholarly and erudite, but also dull. Unless you're a big fan of the sixties and the New Left, don't bother.
Mar 16, 2016 Mandy rated it it was ok
while it is well researched, it is too academic and sterile to connect to non-scholarly readers.
The American Conservative
'Smoking Typewriters is a smart effort but a disappointing one, a history that increases our understanding of alternative media by small increments rather than large leaps. I understand how a publisher could look at McMillian’s academic scholarship and see the seeds of an interesting book. Now that the book’s been published, though, I still don’t see much more than seeds.'

Read the full review, "Notes From the Underground," on our website:
Jay Hinman
Aug 28, 2016 Jay Hinman rated it it was ok
I guess I'd hoped that an academic history of New Left alternative 60s newspapers would have been more engaging. I'd recommend a skim through this one, and a thorough read of the RAMPARTS book instead.
Andy Perdue
Aug 31, 2014 Andy Perdue rated it really liked it
Shelves: journalism
Excellent book about the rise - and tribulations - of the underground press in the 1960s. It read a bit like an academic paper.
Apr 09, 2011 Frederic rated it it was ok
This is a decent dissertation-type book giving a good feel for the era...nothing terribly new for those who came of age reading EVO etc. but a nice introduction for the more recent generation...
Oct 26, 2013 Kenja added it
I love the prose in this book. I am working on taking copious bits and pieces of source materials and transforming them into a smooth read with lush prose like McMillian does.
Chris Faraone
Apr 03, 2013 Chris Faraone rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal history of that from which I came. First book I read after the closing of the Boston Phoenix. Important to know my history before moving forward...
Amy Elizabeth
Aug 07, 2011 Amy Elizabeth rated it really liked it
A comprehensive guide to alternatve media. I am a big believer in knowing where we came from and pop culture as history in the making. Great pictures!
Dec 20, 2012 Keight rated it really liked it
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Hi! I'm an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, in Atlanta. Previously, I've taught in the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature at Harvard, and I earned my Ph.D. from Columbia. Currently, I'm mulling over two projects: One is on New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, and the other is on history of "The Big Book" (the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous). Thanks for y ...more
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