How did the 1950s become “The Sixties”? This is the question at the heart of Daniel Horowitz’s On the Cusp. Part personal memoir, part collective biography, and part cultural history, the book illuminates the dynamics of social and political change through the experiences of a small, and admittedly privileged, generational cohort.
A Jewish “townie” from New Haven when he entered Yale College in fall 1956, Horowitz reconstructs the undergraduate career of the class of 1960 and follows its story into the next decade. He begins by looking at curricular and extracurricular life on the all-male campus, then ranges beyond the confines of Yale to larger contexts, including the local drama of urban renewal, the lingering shadow of McCarthyism, and decolonization movements around the world. He ponders the role of the university in protecting the prerogatives of class while fostering social mobility, and examines the growing significance of race and gender in American politics and culture, spurred by a convergence of the personal and the political. Along the way he traces the political evolution of his classmates, left and right, as Cold War imperatives lose force and public attention shifts to the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam.
Throughout Horowitz draws on a broad range of sources, including personal interviews, writings by classmates, reunion books, issues of the Yale Daily News, and other undergraduate publications, as well as his own letters and college papers. The end product is a work consistent with much of Horowitz’s previously published scholarship on postwar America, further exposing the undercurrent of discontent and dissent that ran just beneath the surface of the so-called Cold War consensus.