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Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson Paperback – August 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: PM Press; First Edition edition (August 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1604864214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604864212
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This whopping epic (published by Oakland's feisty PM Press) tells the story of a Vietnam-era soldier who entered the war as a red-blooded small-town recruit and emerged as a die-hard dissident, driven to expose and oppose not only warfare in general but also the US' unique role in spreading military terror around the world." —Berkeley Daily Planet (July 12, 2011)

"Blood On the Tracks is the story of one man's attempt to change the direction of that machine (America) or, failing in that, preventing it from working at all." — (July 18, 2011)

"[Willson's] 440-page book traces his journey from high school baseball star in Ashville, N.Y., to Air Force captain in Vietnam to antiwar figure - and on to today, when he says his most important message is that 'we have to all live more simply, because our lifestyle in America is totally unsustainable.'" —San Francisco Chronicle (July 18, 2011)

"One lesson (from the book) is the importance of  'finding your own tracks and taking a stand there.' . . . Brian did so by taking this action 'in person:' using the most powerful symbol at his disposal, his vulnerable, resilient, determined, and spirited body." — (September 2011)

"Blood on the Tracks reveals a thoughtful, reflective man who does not shy away from facing difficult truths about what we have made of our world." —Peace News, UK (November 25, 2011)

About the Author

S. Brian Willson is a Vietnam veteran and nonviolent pacifist. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Daniel Ellsberg is a former U.S. military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers. He lives in San Francisco.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I appreciate that in a book!
Johnny Grant
Shows great courage and commitment to high goals and leading the human race to more respect for life.
David G. Schwartz
Please read this book- you are not looking at this review?
moby pablo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Grant on June 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
The acronym PTSD has become well-recognized in America. Since World War II our country has participated in a lot of wars and military actions, and military Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become an all too familiar reaction among returning soldiers. Few books have attempted to explain to the American people why their loved ones, neighbors, and friends have come home from military service scarred, troubled, and sometimes physically ill. Now, at last, veteran S.Brian Willson has defined PTSD as simply a uniquely American form of conscience, and his evidence is utterly damning.

Willson grew up a mainstream American young man, a baseball player filled with an abundance of commitment, energy, and conservative patriotic purpose. He is college educated, and his story is exceptionally well-told, clear and accessible. I could not find a mis-spelled word throughout, nor any obscure or ethnic term that would cause me to put the book down and leave my chair in search of a dictionary. I appreciate that in a book! Quite the contrary. I sat comfortably enthralled as I saw Brian Willson's experiences, perceptions, and many of his conclusions mirror my own. I, too, was brought up a baseball fan in western New York. I marched in the parades, and I was proud of my country. Sadly, despite being visibly unfit to go, we both found ourselves in Vietnam. We were young, still learning and investigating our worlds, and what we saw in Vietnam tore at our individual consciences. We came home changed, severely troubled by America's cruel militarism. We were mostly quiet for a long while, struggling to raise families and live the American dream. We were disillusioned, haunted by memories, sickened by the horrors of war. We met in the early 80s, in Washington, D.C.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Kroll on June 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is not an easy book to read, but that is because its author never flinches from the truth, whether about America's brutal war record in Vietnam or his own complicity in that Imperial War, and that of all Americans of a certain age -- just as all Americans share the horror we are bringing to Afghan and Iraqi and Pakistani villages today. S. Brian Willson, the 4th of July gung-ho American boy, had already begun to question the lessons of "patriotism" with which we so proudly indoctrinate our children, especially our boy children, when, as an officer in Vietnam, he looked down at the dead eyes of a Vietnamese villager clutching her three bullet-ridden children, burnt beyond recognition by Napalm, and understood viscerally the fundamental center of Christ's teachings. As he took in the horror, he writes, "She was not alive. But at the moment her eyes met mine, it felt like a lightning bolt jolted through my entire being... `She is my family,' I said..."
Nearly twenty years later, I stood just behind Brian on a California train track in a well-publicized effort to block munitions trains carrying American weapons to kill other poor villagers in El Salvador and Nicaragua, thinking about the words he had spoken that morning, before one of those trains ripped his legs from his body. He said, "...each train that... gets by us is going to kill people, people like you and me.. And the question that I have to ask on these tracks is: am I any more valuable than those people?"
2500 years ago, the great Greek philosopher Diogenes is said to have carried a lamp in broad daylight searching "for an honest man." Blessed to have known S. Brian Willson for 30 years, I can say without equivocation, that had Diogenes met my friend, he could have put down his lamp and rested, having found what he was looking for.

Michael A. Kroll
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. King on July 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
When I first bought Brian Willson's book I expected an engaging story of an interesting life of a Vietnam vet who became a peace activist. You know: there are a lot of such stories. But very shortly into the book I realized this is no formulaic memoir. Brian is perhaps best remembered as the veteran who was run over by a train while blocking transportation of munitions in Concord, California on Sep. 1, 1987. The weapons were destined for U.S. wars in Central America. Brian lost both legs in the attack, during which the train conductors were ordered by superiors to triple the legal speed of a train in that area and, more importantly, not to stop for anyone sitting on the tracks. It was a targeted attack against a man whose life had metamorphosed from an All American, "communist hating" young adult, to a captain in the Air Force, to a man who witnessed first hand the intentional targeting by U.S.-led fighter jets of unarmed families in rural villages, to an Air Force veteran who, upon return to the U.S. actively opposed the war even while still in the service. Throughout the book Brian is attempting to answer the question: How was the government able to convince him, a decent person, that he should pick up his life and travel 9,000 miles to a land he's almost never heard of and kill people he'd never met? To answer the question we meet a who's who of philosophers, activists, government officials, community members, and others whom Brian knew personally or mined as a reader. The book includes too many italicized words and exclamation points that Brian uses for emphasis, when no emphasis is needed, as the material is so compelling. This is one of the best books ever produced on 20th Century America, I can't recommend it highly enough.
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