where the writers are
From the Reference Desk
Date of Review: 
Feb.01.2009
Reviewer: 
Tom Gilson
Source: 
Against the Grain

American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History is another title that should have broad appeal. Edited by Gina Misiroglu and published by M.E. Sharpe, this three-volume set leaves no doubt that nonconformity is a major theme running throughout the American Experience. From the Puritan dissenters like Roger Williams to today’s gay rights proponents, counterculture personalities and movements have been essential ingredients in shaping our history. However, this encyclopedia’s focus is not merely on people and movements. Articles are also devoted to places and events, ideas and ideologies, the arts, film and music, as well as books and other publications. Even consumer products and illegal substances are covered. As such, readers will find entries on topics as diverse as Greenwich Village, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Abolitionism, Pseudoscience, Feminism, Freemasonry, Easy Rider, the Beat Generation, Gangsta Rap, Gonzo Journalism, The Liberator, Marijuana, Absinthe, and the Volkswagen Beetle. The length of the entries reflect the importance of the topic and the writing is straightforward, factual and accessible. There are short bibliographies for each entry and “see also” reference are employed throughout. Each volume as an individual table of contents as well as a thematic index or topic finder for the whole set. The third volume also has a collection of 24 relevant documents, a cumulative bibliography, a filmography and a useful general index. American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History offers readers a unique reference that pulls together disparate elements of our historic nonconformity. By doing so it helps provide clarity and definition to just how deeply countercultures are woven into the American fabric. In addition, it is one of those references that, while being useful and fact filled, is also fascinating to read and fun to browse. While most of the contributors are academics, this reference is well suited to general audiences and public libraries will want to consider it along with the undergraduate libraries. This encyclopedia is a strong compliment to another M.E. Sharpe reference title entitled the Encyclopedia of American Social Movements.