You would expect a book about hippies to be visually exciting, titillating even. After all, hippies were on the experimental edge of a '60s youth culture that rejected the black-and-white world of the '50s. Hippies came in colors everywhere. They danced naked in the streets. They took their trips on LSD. They launched a rock 'n' roll revolution. And they created vibrant, colorful, sometimes disorienting photographic and graphical styles to represent their experiences.

So it's no real surprise that Barry Miles' excellent book Hippie with its wealth of photographs, psychedelic album-cover art and exotic typefaces captures the dynamic visual energy of the youth culture of the '60s, an energy that continues to influence the way we see things to this day. What is a surprise is that Hippie is so readable, so interesting and, for the most part, so good humored. Miles begins his look at hippie youth culture in 1965, "the first year in which a discernible youth movement began to emerge," and ends in 1971, the year "Jim Morrison joined Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the roll call of rock 'n' roll superhero deaths." Going year by year, Miles employs brief, sharply drawn vignettes to cover everything from the summer of love (which he wryly notes is now copyrighted by Bill Graham Enterprises) to the Manson family, from Timothy Leary's LSD trips to George Harrison's strange walk through Haight Ashbury, from the rise of the Grateful Dead to the end of the Beatles.

Miles dedicates his book "to all the old freaks and hippies everywhere." Yet the book seems remarkably free of nostalgia. Hippie winds up being a refreshing book that is not just for old freaks or young freaks, but rather for any reader with an interest in the look, the feel, the history of a special era.

 

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