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Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual (Legacies of War) Paperback – March 20, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Larry Wittner's life and work are inspiring on their own, but he recounts them in such a frank, open manner that he has crafted a real page-turner. Working for Peace and Justice takes you along on a joyful ride of discovery through the life of a model citizen/scholar/activist."
—Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action

“Scholar, activist, and troubadour Larry Wittner has gifted us with his bold life’s journey for world betterment. Vividly written and deeply moving, this timely, splendid book will inform and hearten everyone concerned about peace and freedom, justice, democracy, and human rights.”
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt and Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies, John Jay College & Graduate Center, CUNY

“The season has come for memoirs of the children of the 1960s who became academics and changed the academy, and this memoir is a jewel of the genre: wonderfully lucid, evocative, honest, unpretentious, precise, and interesting. Larry Wittner’s splendid account reflects his deep good-spiritedness and describes his many years of activist struggle for peace and social justice.”
—Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary; Professor of Religion, Columbia University

“It is fascinating to peer into the personal life of Lawrence Wittner—the great chronicler of the antinuclear movement—in this quite amazing autobiography. He has lived an exemplary life, one that we all should try and emulate in our own individual ways.”
—Helen Caldicott, Founding President, Physicians for Social Responsibility

“Working for Peace and Justice provides a readable narrative of what it takes and the price one pays when the choice is made both to live a life of thought and contemplation and to act on a genuine commitment to make the world a safer and better place. Whether he was formulating ideas for world peace or walking a picket line, Larry Wittner was there and his impact was felt. We can all learn lessons from this wonderful memoir.”
—Bill Scheuerman, former President, United University Professions; retired President, National Labor College

"Larry Wittner's engaging and important memoir reminds me of why his work, his scholarship, and his activism have made me proud to be an American historian. It is a record of democratic social struggle, as well as a gift to those in the next generation who will have the courage and ambition to follow his example of working for a better world."
—Martin J. Sherwin, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for biography

“Larry Wittner has been—and remains—a great union activist. Read this book and you’ll learn what Solidarity really means!”
—Bill Ritchie, President, Albany County Central Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

Book Description

A longtime agitator against war and social injustice, Lawrence Wittner has been tear-gassed, threatened by police with drawn guns, charged by soldiers with fixed bayonets, spied upon by the U.S. government, arrested, and purged from his job for political -reasons. To say that this teacher-historian-activist has led an interesting life is a considerable understatement.
    In this absorbing memoir, Wittner traces the dramatic course of a life and career that took him from a Brooklyn boyhood in the 1940s and ’50s to an education at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin to the front lines of peace activism, the fight for racial equality, and the struggles of the labor movement. He details his family background, which included the bloody anti-Semitic pogroms of late-nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, and chronicles his long teaching career, which comprised positions at a small black college in Virginia, an elite women’s liberal arts college north of New York City, and finally a permanent home at the Albany campus of the State University of New York. Throughout, he packs the narrative with colorful vignettes describing such activities as fighting racism in Louisiana and Mississippi during the early 1960s, collaborating with peace-oriented intellectuals in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, and leading thousands of antinuclear demonstrators through the streets of Hiroshima. As the book also reveals, Wittner’s work as an activist was matched by scholarly achievements that made him one of the world’s foremost authorities on the history of the peace and nuclear disarmament movements—a research specialty that led to revealing encounters with such diverse figures as Norman Thomas, the Unabomber, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Caspar Weinberger, and David Horowitz.
    A tenured professor and renowned author who has nevertheless lived in tension with the broader currents of his society, Lawrence Wittner tells an engaging personal story that includes some of the most turbulent and significant events of recent history.

Lawrence S. Wittner, emeritus professor of history at the University at Albany, SUNY, is the author of numerous scholarly works, including the award-winning three-volume Struggle Against the Bomb. Among other awards and honors, he has received major grants or fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Aspen Institute, the United States Institute of Peace, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


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Product Details

  • Series: Legacies of War
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1 edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572338571
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572338579
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,707,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lawrence S. Wittner is an American historian who has written primarily on peace movements and foreign policy. He attended Columbia College (B.A., 1962), the University of Wisconsin (M.A., 1963), and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1967). Subsequently, he taught at Hampton Institute, at Vassar College, and -- under the Fulbright program -- at Japanese universities. In 1974, he began teaching at the State University of New York/Albany, where he rose to the rank of Professor of History before his retirement in 2010. He is the author of eight scholarly books, the editor or co-editor of another four, the writer of a novel, and the author of over 250 published articles and book reviews. Currently, he serves as the executive secretary of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) and as a national board member of Peace Action. For more information, visit:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Hardtack on March 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
Dr. Wittner taught me American history many years ago, and it was a pleasure to read his intellectual memoirs. Largely shunning the purple prose of many political activists, he gives a candid account of trying to do good in the world while handicapped by shyness, a stutter, and a gift for scholarship that people seldom value any more.

Dr. Wittner has led an interesting and notable but not spectacular life of scholarship and activism- and therein lies the value of the book. It's hard to feel close to Bertrand Russell or Jean-Paul Sartre when they ruminate on the intellectual as revolutionary or the complications of their lives. Dr. Wittner makes no pretenses to such august company, but reminds us that we create value in our lives by using our skills as best we can to make the world a better place- or at least to try. (Also, Dr. Wittner is a lot easier to understand than Sartre....). His account of writing a trilogy about the anti-nuclear movement also reminds us that citizen activists do have an impact on government policy, even if they can't see it at the time. Well worth reading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Andy on July 15, 2012
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This is a great book for anyone interested in the last 50 years of American grassroots politics. Not only do Larry's memoirs add to the many we have of the 1960s, but he gives us a rare account of radical politics at ground level into the 21st century. I'll admit it -- I'm a friend. But I'm also a historian of the period and this volume shows that American peace activism and labor radicalism survived and thrived well past 1968, even in places like upstate New York. Larry's international experiences also cast a picture of the American left in global terms. Let's hope more autobiographies like this one start appearing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Swanson on May 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
I enjoy reading histories of past activism, including memoirs by long-time activists, such as Lawrence Wittner's new book, Working for Peace and Justice.

Almost every such account includes belated discoveries of the extent to which a government has been spying on and infiltrating activist groups.

And almost every such account includes belated discoveries of the extent to which government officials were influenced by activist groups even while pretending to ignore popular pressure.

These revelations can be found in the memoirs of the government officials as well, such as in George W. Bush's recollection of how seriously the Republican Senate Majority Leader was taking public pressure against the war on Iraq in 2006.

Of course, activism that appears ineffectual at the time can succeed in a great many ways, including by influencing others, even young children, who go on to become effective activists -- or by influencing firm opponents who begin to change their minds and eventually switch sides.

The beautiful thing about nonviolent activism is that, while risking no harm, it has the potential to do good in ways small and large that ripple out from it in directions we cannot track or measure.

Wittner participated in his first political demonstration in 1961. The USSR was withdrawing from a moratorium on nuclear testing. A protest at the White House urged President Kennedy not to follow suit:

"Picking up what I considered a very clever sign ('Kennedy, Don't Mimic the Russians!'), I joined the others (supplemented by a second busload of students from a Quaker college in the Midwest) circling around a couple of trees outside the White House.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By john heuer on July 10, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Prof. Lawrence Wittner's memoir is must reading for veterans of the sixties, and those newcomers interested in learning about those turbulent times. The struggle of African-Americans and their allies for liberation from Jim Crow segregation and the legacy of slavery is too often forgotten or overlooked in our nation's historical narrative. The civil rights movement may have been Wittner's introduction to justice activism, descended as he was from oppressed Jewish families in Eastern Europe. But it opened a door to a lifetime pursuit of peace and justice, which led to conflicts with the "craven servants of thought control" he encountered throughout his career in academia.

As a young scholar, Wittner embarked on a history of the peace movement, believing, at the beginning of his inquiry, that the movement for peace had failed miserably. But his meticulous research demonstrated the opposite of his preconceptions.

It was never fore-ordained that the Cold War would end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, rather than the big-bang nuclear holocaust of everyone's worst nightmare. What did it take to avert this cataclysm? It took millions of peace activists in the US, the USSR and around the world pressuring their leaders to back off from those horrific buttons.

As a new nuclear abolition movement gathers force, we can take heart from scholars and activists like Larry Wittner, who lead the way toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, and to put an end to war.

John Heuer
Chapel Hill, NC
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mitchell on May 31, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Larry Wittner, author of the outstanding trilogy of the world nuclear disarmament movement titled "The Struggle Against the Bomb", has written another winner. His memoirs of an activist intellectual is both interesting and entertaining as he discusses the trials and tribulations of his personal, activist and professional life. How does one become an activist intellectual? What sustains such an activist? Are the efforts to make the world a better place worth the physical and emotional toll? Wittner answers these questions within the context of descriptions of actions he took with others on the local, national and world stages. I recommend the book highly.
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