Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with principal figures. 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.
The 60s depicted here depart from the 'standard narrative' of the decade that has emerged even on the left, in which university students, predominantly white and middle class, were 'the principal social actors', and protest radiated out from a few large and storied campuses ... To their credit, Davis and Wiener do not attempt to squeeze those tumultuous years into a single frame. Their approach is encyclopedic rather than narrative. And at nearly 800 pages, Set the Night on Fire is frankly 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.
Combining comprehensive, mineshaft-deep research with unique firsthand knowledge, their recounting of the radical ’60s in Los Angeles will likely not be surpassed. Davis and Wiener tell a complex story involving webs of relationships along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and class, in what would today be referred to as intersectionality. One of the major contributions of Set the Night on Fire is the linkage of what have often been viewed as separate events, including the so-called 'Blowouts,' politically inspired secondary-school walkouts that originated among Latino students but soon became multiracial; anti–Vietnam War protests that moved beyond white constituencies to engage Angelenos of color; and black cultural articulations that attracted white leftist support.
The book rewinds to 1960, slowly and concretely describing the story of political resistance in and around Los Angeles. The findings of the Davis and Wiener book suggest that this period of struggle in the 1960s was simply a variant of the raced mayhem Americans experience today. The combination of an unhinged paramilitary police force and a docile press is not a twentieth-century blip. Set the Night on Fire is appropriate to the now ... StNoF is especially good at showing how LA acted as a receiver and transmitter of emancipatory waves, joining in, then leading, as the need arose ... StNoF goes into its last quarter with fantastic sections on Gidra, a radical Asian American newspaper started at UCLA; the Free Clinic; and Wattstax ... Everything is still on fire, and more people can see that now.