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New York Times Publishes Isserman Review


“A true-crime narrative, in the tradition of ‘Helter Skelter,’” is how Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, described Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence in The New York Times Sunday Book Review section on May 3. Summarizing the book’s focus, he wrote, “What is new and valuable in 'Days of Rage' is the comprehensive overview it provides of the violence perpetrated by would-be revolutionary vanguards from the end of the 1960s through the mid-1980s, including the Weather Underground (initially known as Weatherman), the Black Liberation Army (B.L.A.), the Symbionese Liberation Army (S.L.A.), Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (F.A.L.N.), as well as a host of freelance desperadoes.”

Isserman noted that the author approached his subject with a balanced perspective at times and  lacked objectivity at others. “While Burrough’s sympathies clearly lie with the pursuers, he provides the pursued the chance to present their side (or for some, like Cathy Wilkerson, a Weather Underground veteran, to express their regrets),” Isserman wrote. Later in the review, however, he observed, “Burrough quotes an F.B.I. agent to the effect that in 1972 there were over 1,900 domestic bombings in the United States, the implication being that they were all committed by left-wing groups. But for many decades before, right-wing groups were responsible for much, perhaps most of the nation’s political violence.” Isserman pointed to the actions of the militant anti-¬Communist Minutemen organization, the Klansmen and the Jewish Defense League as examples of some of those violent right-wing organizations.

“Burrough has a weakness for snappy generalizations that brand rather than illuminate the era,” Isserman concluded, noting that “None of [Burrough’s generalizations] is very helpful in explaining why, out of S.D.S.’s 100,000 ‘angry, idealistic’ members in 1968-69, only 200 showed up for Weatherman’s violent ‘Days of Rage’ street actions in Chicago in October 1969, and even fewer followed Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and their comrades into the Weather Underground several months later.”

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