LOS ANGELES -- Theodore Roszak, a historian, social critic and novelist who saw the youth rebellions of the late 1960s as a movement worthy of analysis and its own name -- the counterculture -- died July 5 in Berkeley. He was 77.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Betty Roszak.
Roszak was an author and longtime professor at California State University East Bay whose best-known work defined an era: He wrote "The Making of a Counter Culture" (1969), a nonfiction best-seller that popularized the word "counterculture."
Drawing on the works of influential thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, Paul Goodman and Alan Watts, the book examined the intellectual underpinnings of the social tumult that began in the mid-1960s and extended into the 1970s -- the campus protests, love-ins, rock music and psychedelic drug fests that infected masses of young people and bewildered their elders. The youths comprised "a culture so radically disaffiliated from the mainstream assumptions of our society," Roszak wrote, "that it scarcely looks to many as a culture at all but takes on the alarming appearance of a barbaric intrusion."
But where some saw a chaos of protesting college radicals, hippie communards, Deadheads and drug pushers, Roszak saw a serious movement with possibly redeeming value, a youthful opposition to the "technocracy" that he said was at the root of problems such as war, poverty, racial disharmony and environmental degradation.
"This was a time when there was this immense cultural upheaval in the country. But what was this? Was it just a lot of freakish behavior? Was this "... an unintended consequence of the Vietnam War? There was no conceptual handle on it," Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor who wrote a popular history of the 1960s, said in an interview Tuesday. "People were trying to figure out: 'What is this thing that has come upon us?' He named it. That's why the book was a best-seller."
Roszak wrote or edited more than 17 books, including "The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology" (1992), a pioneering work on the relationship between planetary and personal health.
He delved into the movie industry, religious fundamentalism and the dark side of technology in several novels, including "Bugs" (1981), "Flicker" (1991) and "The Devil and Daniel Silverman" (2003). "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein" (1995), inspired by the unconventional life of Mary Shelley, who wrote the original Frankenstein story, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for its exploration of gender issues.
"He was always trying to see under things, what does it all mean," said Ernest Callenbach, a fellow Berkeley writer whose 1975 novel "Ecotopia" was also a counterculture landmark.
The son of a carpenter, Roszak was born in Chicago on Nov. 15, 1933. His family later moved to Los Angeles, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history from UCLA in 1955.
He received a doctorate in history from Princeton University in 1958 and became an instructor at Stanford University in 1959.
In 1963, he joined the history department at Cal State Hayward, which became Cal State East Bay in 2005. He took a leave of absence a year later to edit a small pacifist newspaper in London. He was there in 1964 when the free-speech movement erupted at UC Berkeley.