“This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game.”

This is in no way a political moment like the one that Joan Didion wrote about in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” her chronicle of San Francisco in 1967. On Haight Street Didion found wastelands both physical and intellectual: one of the essay’s most dramatic images is of a five-year-old—a member of something called “High Kindergarten”—on acid. The piece, a classic, is an epically depressing collection of short takes populated by members of a confused generation. “We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum,” Didion writes in one of the few passages in the essay when she turns toward her readers and says, quite directly, what she’s thinking.