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Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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*Starred Review* This compelling sequel to Ayers’ Fugitive Days—published on September 11, 2001—describes the author’s chaotic life after he and his wife, Bernadette Dohrn, became the topic and target of conversation during Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency. Accused of being a domestic terrorist, Ayers, a popular professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, learned to navigate his new role as the nation’s “public enemy.” He begins his story in April 2008, when he was watching the presidential primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Obama with a dozen of his graduate students, and one of the debate moderators, George Stephanopoulos, asked Obama to explain his “friendship” with Ayers, a member of the radical 1960s Weather Underground. Ayers describes the nightmares that ensued: hate mail, death threats, canceled lectures, being denied entry into Canada. He owns up to his activities as an “unrepentant terrorist” with the Underground but points out no one was killed or harmed: “Our notoriety, then and now, outstripped our activity.” Demonized and blacklisted, Ayers maintains not only his sanity but also his humor. When a reporter notes that he doesn’t look like a real Weatherman, Ayers laughs and asks her what a real Weatherman looks like. A wonderful homage to free speech. --June Sawyers
“[A] witty and spirited follow-up to Fugitive Days . . . Among the book’s many edifying elements, including insight into the inner life and deep humanity of a man portrayed as a ‘cartoon character,’ is the author’s conversational style and whimsical sense of humor. . . . Through humor and self-reflection, the book offers a complex portrait of Ayers, including his experiences as an early education specialist, professor, husband (to former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn), father of three, author, and activist. . . . Often times riotously funny, yet also plainspoken and serious, this is a memoir of impressive range.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This compelling sequel to Ayers’ Fugitive Days describes the author’s chaotic life after he and his wife, Bernadette Dohrn, became the topic and target of conversation during Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency. . . . Demonized and blacklisted, Ayers maintains not only his sanity but also his humor. . . . A wonderful homage to free speech.” —Booklist, starred review
“The one-time Weather Underground fugitive talks about his life as a political bogeyman. . . . His writing is thoughtful, penetratingly insightful and marvelously lacking in self-pity.
No matter how they feel about his politics, readers of this memoir should find the author’s humanity irresistible.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The legendary Bill Ayers is at his spellbinding best in Public Enemy—a brilliant, spirited document of a revolutionary life in our not-so-revolutionary age. One of the most compelling, insightful memoirs of the year.” —Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“An inspiring, ripping read. Apart from being a committed activist, engaging thinker, and brilliant parent, Bill Ayers is a great storyteller.” —Aleksandar Hemon, author ofThe Lazarus Project
“Bill Ayers is a master teacher, a master storyteller, and a clarion-clear voice of conscience and commitment. Here he is, standing calmly at the center of the never-ending maelstrom, a public enemy trying to make meaning and change and sense of it all.” —Adam Mansbach, author of Rage Is Back
“Bill Ayers writes eloquently of the profound challenges, the joys, and the toll of embracing a deep, lifelong commitment to social change. He has confronted power for more than half a century: in the civil rights movement, against the Vietnam War, living underground for over a decade, and during his long career as a respected educator. This deeply personal memoir spans the gap from the ’60s to the present day, framing the current so-called war on terror in a critical, urgent light.” —Amy Goodman, author of The Exception to the Rulers
“With incisive humor, Bill Ayers’s captivating memoir reveals that behind the fearsome ‘public enemy’ lies a deeply dedicated parent, compassionate teacher, and principled revolutionary activist, representing this country’s best hopes for a democratic future." —Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class
“In no way apologetic, the book is a well-written consideration of an engaged life lived in a contentious time." —Counterpunch
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Beyond that, I chose a 4-star rating because this is a tremendously written book. Ayers' mastery of the language is obvious, and his writing style in engaging, thought provoking, and consumable.
Spoiler alert - if you are a rabid "conservative" that is considering this book because you think the great mystery behind who penned Dreams From My Father will be revealed, don't. The assertion in the Amazon write-up is in quotation marks for a reason.
Disclaimer - I bought the book because of the aforementioned assertion, that Bill Ayers was going on record for writing Dreams. Aren't I a boob?
As to the book, it seems to represent Ayres's current thinking about his past. I think he is correct in saying that the Weather Underground never physically hurt anyone, but I think people were indirectly hurt by its actions. The cost of repairing what the group destroyed ($2 mil) surely meant a delay in government funding of programs Ayres would have wanted funded. The cost definitely didn't denture the Military-Industrial Complex.
While he was unfairly attacked in 2008 [after all some former Black Panthers were and are in Congress] I'm disappointed he compensated by trying to justify what he did. He's old enough now to see that he could have acted within the law and achieved as much or more. I'm reminded of the fable of the contest between the sun and the wind as who could get a fellow to take his coat off. The wind's blowing just made him clutch his coat tighter to him, while the sun's warmth made him take it off. Sometimes fighting fire with fire is beneficial, but usually water works better. Being dramatic was too tempting to the young Ayres and it's sad that if he sees that now, he can't say so. I would like to think that his life in the last three decades or so indicates that he knows it's so. However as of the book's publishing in 2013, he still believed that a revolution would be a good thing. I think he should have realized by now that the disadvantaged aren't any morally pure than are the rest of us and that incremental change ultimately works better than turmoil.
The book covers bits of various time periods and is topic-driven rather than chronological. This makes sense, but the lack of an index does not. An index would have helped me quite a bit.
So I have not succeeded in sticking to reviewing the book, but I hope I've expressed an under-represented point of view.