22 June 2007

A single spark can start a prairie fire...

It's been a long struggle (mainly because I couldn't find reading time), but I finally put another book behind me. Back in the heady days of late April, I picked up Dan Berger's Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. My interest had been piqued by a Russell Banks novel I'd had read, The Darling, and the book looked damn good, having come out only a year ago.

It's a valuable book, but it never captivated me, mainly because it seemed that Berger kept coming back to the same phrasing to discuss the events. For instance, I'd read that Weather used Osawatamie to communicate with the aboveground movement and then about fifteen or so pages later I'd read that Weather used Osawatamie to communicate with the aboveground. The book is very well-researched, though, and it's not as if Berger simply repeats himself, because he clearly moves through the various twists and turns of the Weathermen, from their inception as part of SDS, to their move underground, to their subsequent dissolution, and finally to their legacy.

I'd have liked to have seen more of their actions seen in the context of their cultural milieu. Berger does a great job of setting out what Weather hoped to accomplish with their bombings and their communiques, but he gives very short shrift to discussing how their actions were seen by those outside the movement. For instance, during the SDS split, it would be interesting to get some Progessive Labor perspectives, especially since they come off as villains. And how exactly were Weather's actions during the 1970's perceived in the mainstream press, in less radical Left organizations, etc. (some attention is given to one or two figures from the Black Panthers or the Black Liberation Army, but again that gets back to my repetition critique: it seems the same figures are used over and over to talk about outside influences/influencing).

So the book didn't grab me and compel me to read it; it's still a great contribution to a growing field of literature on the 1960's and 1970's Left, and Berger also finishes strongly by linking the Weather Underground to a new generation of activists and issues, most notably the prison industrial complex in the United States.


Reya Mellicker said...

There are a lot of books with the same information written and rewritten chapter after chapter these days. I think the editors or publishers want books to be plump and therefore seem more desireable to potential buyers.

Lots of books I've read recently could have been published as magazine articles. 1491 is an exception to that rule. Great book. Check it out.

Reya Mellicker said...

oops. Inadvertently published comment before I was finished....

The Jared Diamond books are repetitive (for example), and books like Blink and The Tipping Point did not have to be so long.

Save a tree. Publish in magazines.