The best books to understand 60’s back-to-the-land hippies

Why am I passionate about this?

I was a teenager in the up-tight, homophobic, misogynist 50s that today’s right wing-nuts would like to inflict on us again. Born in 1941, I was a few years older than friends and relatives who homesteaded where land was cheap and neighbours tolerant, I shared their abhorrence of the Vietnam War. I admired them for daring to reject “the system,” but I was also troubled by their lack of foresight, which so often led to calamity. A lifetime later, some survivors of those hopeful times remain where they homesteaded; and many of those who left are still pursuing love, peace, and happiness.


I wrote...

The Hippies Who Meant It

By Seymour Hamilton,

Book cover of The Hippies Who Meant It

What is my book about?

The Hippies Who Meant It is about young people who went back to the land in Canada during the 60s and 70s.

Joe from the Bronx, and Beth the orphan escape New York City for Canada, hoping to leave their past lives—and American politics—behind them. At a peace march on their way north, their fortunes intertwine with the fate of Dick, a Royal Military College officer cadet. Armed with naïveté, optimism, and a little weed, the three homestead on Nova Scotia’s North Mountain. Unlike the hippies of summer, they make it through the first winter, with a little help from their friends. Then a man damaged by the Vietnam War threatens their peaceful lives.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools

Seymour Hamilton Why did I love this book?

TWEC is a hippie homesteading encyclopedia: 450 tabloid-size pages of “mind-blowing,” semi-practical idealism. The back cover photo is of the earth from space. The caption reads, “We can’t put it together. It is together.”

The first pages of the 620,000 copies published in 1971 featured Buckminster Fuller on systems, Arthur Koestler on consciousness, Teilhard de Chardin on spirituality, and Paul Ehrlich on The Population Bomb.

TWEC primarily offered mail-order sources for books and tools about agriculture, farming, edible plants, gardening, raising goats, chickens, pigs, building solar-heated buildings, well-drilling, gold mining, and much more, including a continuing story of how Divine Right crossed the USA Urge, his ’63 VW Microbus.

Like youth culture in the 60s, The Last Whole Earth Catalog was varied, challenging, seditious, profound, silly, exciting, practical, confusing, and confused. I loved it.

By Stewart Brand,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Whole Earth Catalog as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We are as gods and we might as well get used to it. So far remotely done power and glory - as via government, big business, formal education, church - has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing - the power of individuals to conduct their own education, find their own inspiration, shape their own environment, and share the adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by The Next Earth Catalog.


Book cover of The 60s: The Story of a Decade

Seymour Hamilton Why did I love this book?

Finder curated a retrospective collection of 60s books, theatre, music, television, poetry, architecture, and politics. It opens with passages from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, James Baldwin on civil rights, and Hannah Arendt on Eichmann.

Then John Updike muses on the big bang theory, E. J. Kahn, Jr. captures Harvard professors’ view of student protest. Next Kenneth Tynan reviews Bye Bye Birdie, Lillian Ross listens to Sergeant Pepper, then teams with Jane Kramer to parse Marshal McLuhan. Robert Rice muses on the humour of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and A. J. Liebling looks at Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali… and much more.

It’s a cornucopia of well-written, intellectually stimulating prose and poetry written in and about a perplexing decade. It illuminates what I remember—even when I don’t agree—and makes me aware of much that I missed, misunderstood, or misinterpreted at the time.

By The New Yorker Magazine, Henry Finder (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 60s as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fascinating anthology collects notable New Yorker pieces from the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century—including work by James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Sylvia Plath, Roger Angell, and Muriel Spark—alongside new assessments of the 1960s by some of today’s finest writers.

Here are real-time accounts of these years, brought to immediate and profound life: Calvin Trillin reports on the integration of Southern universities, E. B. White and John Updike wrestle with the enormity of the Kennedy assassination, and Jonathan Schell travels with American troops into the jungles of Vietnam. Some of the truly timeless works of American journalism came out…


Book cover of Stranger in a Strange Land

Seymour Hamilton Why did I love this book?

A human being begotten on Mars, son of many men on one woman, brings heightened consciousness to earth, one miracle at a time. First, he must comprehend the illogicalities and paradoxes of human society. Mentored by a world-weary lawyer—an obvious stand-in for the author—the other-worldly hero draws to him an unlikely collection of disciples who he teaches to “grok” the essence of being human through the sacrament of sharing water.

Heinlein’s novel deals with peace, love, and happiness, plus interplanetary space, Mars, teleportation, mind expansion, and sexual freedom. It appealed to a wider audience than Heinlein’s earlier gung-ho, martial, all-American science fiction stories, heavy with futuristic technology. Stranger took on a life of its own, inspiring imitations and excesses contrary to its creator’s intentions—as was the case with much 60’s music, writing, and art.

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Stranger in a Strange Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The original uncut edition of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Hugo Award winner Robert A Heinlein - one of the most beloved, celebrated science-fiction novels of all time. Epic, ambitious and entertaining, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND caused controversy and uproar when it was first published and is still topical and challenging today.

Twenty-five years ago, the first manned mission to Mars was lost, and all hands presumed dead. But someone survived...

Born on the doomed spaceship and raised by the Martians who saved his life, Valentine Michael Smith has never seen a human being until the day a…


Book cover of Island

Seymour Hamilton Why did I love this book?

Island novelizes the “purely aesthetic… sacramental vision” Huxley discovered on mescaline. It features mind-altering drugs, spiritualism, and conventional sex. It championed spiritual growth, environmentalism, and peaceful co-existence in an agricultural society. Huxley supposes a remote island where the best (white) people live in spiritual harmony away from the materialism, capitalism, and technological progress that he satirized in his immensely popular novel, Brave New World.

I chose Island because of Huxley’s other-worldly intellectual quietism, which appealed to city-bred, university-educated 60s people disillusioned by materialism. They chose a simpler, traditional, agricultural way of life, emulating Huxley’s rejection of technological progress, capitalism, and revolution.

By Aldous Huxley,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over a hundred years the Pacific island of Pala has been the scene of a unique experiment in civilisation. Its inhabitants live in a society where western science has been brought together with Eastern philosophy to create a paradise on earth. When cynical journalist, Will Farnaby, arrives to research potential oil reserves on Pala, he quickly falls in love with the way of life on the island. Soon the need to complete his mission becomes an intolerable burden and he must make a difficult choice.

In counterpoint to Brave New World and Ape and Essence, in Island Huxley gives…


Book cover of Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue Eyed Years With Pogo

Seymour Hamilton Why did I love this book?

Walt Kelly’s tales of Pogo Possum and Albert the Alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp began in 1948. Like many daily cartoon strips it featured anthropomorphic characters. The humour was sweet, gentle, and “ridickelwockle,” letting Pogo fly under the radar of censorship until they noticed that Kelly was lampooning politicians. “Family” newspapers banned the strip, but Kelly had captured his readers’ hearts.

Walt Kelley expressed the essence of the anti-Vietnam War protest when he had Pogo say, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

By Walt Kelly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue Eyed Years With Pogo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The official history and commemoration of Pogo's first decade...all wrapped up with a running commentary by Walt Kelly."


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What is this book about?

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