Reviews

“Davis and Wiener write with passion and deep knowledge . . . an indispensable portrait of an unexplored chapter in history.”

Publishers Weekly

“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.

The Real LA by Ben Ehrenreich in The Guardian

“Combining comprehensive, mineshaft-deep research with unique firsthand knowledge, [Davis and Wiener’s] recounting of the radical ’60s in Los Angeles will likely not be surpassed.”

The Fire and the Fizzle by Jerald Podair in the Los Angeles Review of Books

“The book proceeds chronologically from 1960, ‘the birth year of a new social consciousness,’ where the ‘method was direct action, nonviolent but unyielding.’ What demanded action was repression on three fronts: housing, education, and policing. ‘With the benediction of federal lenders and the full complicity of the real estate and construction industries,’ Davis and Wiener write, ‘racially exclusive suburbanization was creating a monochromatic society from which Blacks were excluded and in which Chicanos had only a marginal place.’ Excluded from the suburbs, black and brown citizens of Los Angeles were left to fight the cops and local politicians for their safety and dignity. As went civil rights efforts in the South, so went Los Angeles. 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.”

Los Angeles Is Burning: A new history of ’60s radicalism on the West Coast by Sasha Frere-Jones in Bookforum

“Mike Davis and Jon Wiener’s Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties is both a fierce political and cultural history and a geographic corrective.”

True Stories of L.A. in the 1960s by William Deverell in Alta

“Authors Mike Davis and Jon Wiener unfurl a racist metropolis where politicians are in the pocket of the 1 percent, violent cops literally get away with murder and the local press — particularly the Los Angeles Times — is in on the fix. As James Baldwin observed, “there is … no distance between Birmingham and Los Angeles. (…) “Set the Night on Fire” fills in many blanks, focusing mostly on the movements emerging from South and East L.A. — the struggle for fair housing, the fight to integrate schools and jobs — while also excavating the forgotten core of L.A. resistance, illuminating those who often took life-risking steps to expose injustice.

It’s a dense, detailed read, but for those craving an in-the-weeds narrative of the city’s diverse movements during the tumultuous 1960s, “Set the Night on Fire” is authoritative and impressive. It works fine for skimmers, but the book’s message really resonates as a whole: Progress is slow, painful and often dangerous but ultimately possible and worth the fight. (…) “Set the Night on Fire” is an essential reference to L.A.’s rich history of civil unrest, with a hopeful undercurrent. Movements can and often do force change. Long after the 1960s ended, the commitment to resistance remains a powerful tool.”

Review: How L.A.’s ’60s movements fought for justice — and sometimes even achieved it by Erik Himmelsbach-Weinstein in The Los Angeles Times

“Davis and Wiener introduce us to a fascinating range of heroic characters, many of whom are usually omitted from similar histories. [They] record how more recent movements have built on LA’s radical tradition.”

Making Los Angeles by Glyn Robbins in Tribune, reprinted in the People’s World

A “HUGE AND EXHILARATING WORK OF HISTORY” – ONE OF LITHUB’S “MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2020”
This huge and exhilarating work of history aims to restore some depth and accuracy to how we talk about Los Angeles in the 1960s, the decade during which ‘Surfin’ USA’ conjured utopian dreams of a beach color, and the 1965 Watts uprising suggested there was some trouble with that dream. As Davis and Wiener show, the reality was far more complex than that pendulum swing, and Los Angeles was very different than other parts of the state in building a culture of resistance. In addition to more than 100 urban protests and near riots that surrounded Watts, resistance was being led by middle and high school students, tens of thousands of whom walked out in the mid to late 1960s. The ACLU did not follow in LA, and the authors pay tribute to their role guiding civil rights pushes. LA had the first LBGTQ street protest, it wasn’t New York, and they were fighting an entrenched white nationalism on the streets of LA too. It wasn’t just the police, but white gangs who made it hard for kids of color to surf on many beaches. Weaving between electoral politics and protest movements, from city hall to Sacramento, Davis and Wiener have created an important book to read in a time where LA needs more than ever to be mobilized.

John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

“There’s a monochromatic picture of Los Angeles in the sixties—all Hollywood pop and Didion ennui—that up close turns out to be made of many different colors and a lot more stories. What more than a million people of African, Asian, and Mexican ancestry–“edited out of utopia”–as Mike Davis and Jon Wiener put it, alongside antiwar feminists and high school students and others did is the heart of this book, and it’s a big heart. No one could gather and tell these intersecting stories better than Davis and Wiener, and their book gives us back a great city’s greatness in its heroes, movements, edges and other centers, so many of them forgotten.”

—Rebecca Solnit, author of My Nonexistence: A Memoir

Set the Night on Fire: A History of LA in the Sixties is a book as vast as the city itself. The authors’ intention seems to have been to provide a comprehensive, intelligent, and popular history of the 1960s in one of the world’s greatest urban experiments, Los Angeles. Their effort is exhilarating, engrossing, and extremely successful.”

The Sixties in the City of the Fallen Angels by Ron Jacobs in CounterPunch

“From the Ash Grove to Aztlán, from the Valley to Vietnam, it’s all here. Step inside and meet an amazing array of characters who risked life and limb to drag the City of Angels out of the dark ages. In showing how struggles for free health care, adequate housing, functional schools, racial and sexual liberation, new forms of creative expression, and the human right of freedom from brutal police violence came together into a mighty torrent, Wiener and Davis have written a revolutionary history for an age of continuing contradictions.”

—Daniel Widener, author of Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles

“This is history from below, in the very best sense, focusing on grassroots heroes and struggles. A magnificent mural of the local Sixties, written with verve and passion by two of my favorite locals.”

—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, The Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

“A RICHLY DETAILED PORTRAIT OF A CITY THAT SEETHED WITH REBELLIOUS ENERGY.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A vivid portrait of Los Angeles during a turbulent decade. Davis and Wiener experienced firsthand the political, cultural, and social upheavals that roiled LA in the 1960s. Davis was the Los Angeles regional organizer for Students for a Democratic Society and a member of the Southern California branch of the Communist Party. Wiener, who had participated in anti-war and civil rights activism from the time he was in high school, arrived in LA in 1969, quickly becoming a reporter for Liberation News Service, which provided to underground and college papers around the country reports about strikes, anti-war protests, and incendiary events such as the efforts of the California regents to fire philosophy professor Angela Davis.

In addition to their own recollections, the authors mine abundant archival sources and interviews to create a richly detailed portrait of a city that seethed with rebellious energy. “Much of that energy came from civil rights activists, with LA serving as “a major laboratory for the Black Power experiment.” Building on “the template of Black nationalism,” Mexican Americans redefined themselves as Chicanas/os, fashioning their own ideology and identity, as did Asian Americans, who lobbied for ethnic studies programs and, at UCLA, published a monthly newspaper that publicized the Asian American movement. Feminist groups—liberal, radical, and socialist—burgeoned, as well. Because the Los Angeles Times “was firmly and loudly right-wing,” the LA Free Press emerged as the nation’s first and most influential underground paper, disseminating news about racial unrest (such as the Watts uprising of 1965), gay rights (such as the founding, in 1966, of a group calling itself Personal Rights in Defense and Education, or PRIDE), and the repressive actions of the police department, mayor, and the state’s governor, Ronald Reagan.

A spirited history of urban unrest that laid the groundwork and inspiration for future activists and reformers.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Davis’s and Wiener’s L.A. is not the glossy theme park of mansions, beaches, and glitzed-up noir, but the undercity of outsiders struggling to get out from under the savage police to stake out a place in the sun. Their book is a rare and necessary saga of unsung heroes, vicious authorities, and unpunished crimes–a timely reminder of opportunities seized and opportunities wasted.”

—Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

Set the Night on Fire will be an indispensable resource for scholars and activists interested in radical politics in Los Angeles for years to come.

Review: Exploring the radical politics of Los Angeles in the 1960’s by Sean Dempsey, S.J. in America The Jesuit Review

“The great task of Set the Night on Fire is to remedy the erasures of the black, brown and queer activists who put their bodies on the line. Mike Davis and Jon Wiener remind us that what there is of progressivism in the city today (we can debate how much) has a very deep history of struggle against unforgiving reactionary forces. Revolutionary artist- nuns, educator-organizers and free-jazz visionaries are just a few of a vast cast of characters that together paint a stirring portrait of a visionary Los Angeles ever-emerging from the shadows of the old order. It’s high time radical LA came out of the closet. This book blows the door wide open. Viva Los Angeles Libre!”

—Rubén Martínez, author of Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape

Los Angeles’s recent past, as it is recounted in Set the Night on Fire, makes America’s present seem somehow less surprising, but no less depressing.”

Set the Night on Fire by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener – review by Sean O’Hagan in The Observer

“Set The Night on Fire provides a comprehensive overview of how every disenfranchised group in L.A. in the ‘60s fought for their rights. An indispensable tool for students of California history, civil rights, and sociology.”

Set the Night on Fire by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener – review on Slums Off Hollywood Boulevard

“A detailed and scholarly account of Los Angeles counterculture (…) an eerily relevant book right now, with a similarly wide gap between mainstream media’s accounts of protests and riots, and what can be found on Twitter or blogs.

Set the Night on Fire by Meg Stivinson on The Fiction Addiction

“This book can be playful, confrontational, analytical and reverential.”

“If the book aims to fan new sparks of rebellion and set nights on fire again, metaphorically if not literally, it also aims to show that L.A. was in many ways the epicenter of 1960s rebellion, and that sometimes things happened there first and later caught on around the country. The book can be rather preachy about the uniqueness of L.A., though the authors also show that what was happening in L.A. was also happening elsewhere. It was unique and it was similar.”

Set the Night on Fire : L.A. in the Sixties by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog

“Beyond a chronicle of a metropolis or an era, Set the Night on Fire thoroughly illustrates the myriad dynamics of inequality, exposes the short- and long-term consequences of discrimination and offers hope in overcoming socio-economic divisions through unyielding activism for equal rights and equal justice – an activism that ought to begin with the question: ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’”

Book Review: Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener by Jeff Roquen on the LSE Review of Books

“Set the Night on Fire, isn’t just a stunning portrait of a city in upheaval half a century ago. It’s a history of uprisings for civil rights, against poverty, and for a better world that speaks directly to our current moment of mass protest.

The Many Explosions of Los Angeles in the 1960s by Samuel Farber

“It would be difficult to do justice to this 800-page chronicle in 800 words, but it is a remarkably well-researched volume, which chronologically itemises each and every twist and turn in the muddled patchwork of American history, which, judging from the events over the past few weeks, informs us that there is still a long way to go in terms of equality, poverty and justice for all.

Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Don Grant