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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, the times, they were a-changing, September 27, 2004
This review is from: The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary (Hardcover)
In the early 1970s, as I struggled through my adolescence, James Simon Kunen's "The Strawberry Statement" was one of my favorite books. Part diary, part reflection and part polemic, it allowed me to participate vicariously in the confusion, rage and activism of Columbia's student strikes of the late 1960s.

Kunen was the kind of kid I wanted to be. A nerdy kind of a guy, he participated in anti-establishment student actions at Columbia University. He protested construction projects that supposedly disenfranchised Columbia's neighbors and helped occupy the offices of college officials. He was an activist, though on the fringes, "stickin' it to the man" before the phrase became widely known. Kunen was the poster child for my teen rage against a governmental machine that had my parents' blind support. His writing is genuine and funny, capturing the hydra-headed angst of being a long-haired college kid in 1968. No wonder I liked the book!

Kunen's description of student organizers like Mark Rudd nailed (albeit unconsciously) the leaders of the period as typical politicians, who carefully managed the mob's righteous indignation with their own positioning for future leadership roles. Kunen's description of university officials poignantly captured their vapidity and their befuddlement at being questioned by their under-age charges. The book is a perfectly-posed snapshot of a culture teetering between a passive age of obedient complacency and an emerging age of anti-authoritarian mistrust and challenge.

Thirty years later, I also see some of the narcissistic silliness that defined the 1960s. The war in Vietnam, which presumably fueled protests, is strangely absent from Kunen's writings, giving his musings a tinge of empty-headedness rather than profundity. Marxism, which appealed to a generation of college radicals, seems worn more as a badge of distinctiveness from his parent's unreflective capitalism rather than a lived reality. For all his desire to be different, Kunen is depressingly the same as many post-adolescents, crossing swords with adults who don't take him seriously, missing the big picture while fighting the good fight.

As a way for adolescents to get in touch with their desire for activism, "The Strawberry Statement" is a gem. As a snapshot of being 19 years old in late 1960s - with its half-blind groping toward an unseen and hopefully brighter future-it is priceless.
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Initial post: Mar 5, 2010 11:44:49 AM PST
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