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Troublemaker: A Memoir From the Front Lines of the Sixties Hardcover – April 26, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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Praise for Troublemaker:
"For almost half a century Bill Zimmerman has labored with intensity for progressive causes as an organizer and political consultant. In this new memoir he looks back on his career with an unwavering commitment to his beliefs and an admirable intellectual toughness and pragmatism.... He has been a key player on dozens of issues including Wounded Knee, Central America, Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign and medical marijuana initiatives and fought with MoveOn.org against the Iraq War. His tense and harrowing account of literally risking his life by flying an airplane to drop food to the besieged American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee gives the book a drama not found in typical ideological memoirs... [His] is a unique and strong voice. Troublemaker is a well-written, passionate story of a personal journey through the Vietnam protest era, and a valuable model for progressive activists of our own time."—Danny Goldberg, TheNation.com
"A political activist looks back on an eventful life.
Zimmerman (Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You?, 1999, etc.), a working-class kid from Chicago who lost relatives in the Holocaust, struggled from an early age with revulsion over the idea that he might become the American equivalent of “the Good German,” a citizen who passively condones the evil actions of his government. His rebellious nature was nurtured in 1960 during a year-long hiatus from studies at the University of Chicago by the sight of French students skirmishing with police on the streets of Paris in protest against the war in Algeria, something unheard of in Eisenhower America. Back in America, he joined a friend working for the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee in Mississippi one summer, during which he witnessed firsthand the sickening effects of Jim Crow racism. Politically ahead of the curve with his peers, he led student negotiations with the university during an occupation of Chicago’s administration building as a graduate student, then as an assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College. Soon, he was making a career fighting to end the Vietnam War, whether it involved confronting police or his fellow scientists and academics, shaming them for sharing research that could be used against civilians in the war. Zimmerman reveals here one extraordinary example of his activism: At a critical moment, he traveled to Europe to give North Vietnamese officials some stolen vials of newly developed penicillin that required no refrigeration, an act which, if he had been caught, might have earned him the charge of espionage or treason. The author’s experiences during the war (e.g., recording on film the damage American bombs did to cities and hospitals in North Vietnam) and after (flying a dangerously damaged cargo plane to drop food and medicine for besieged Indians at Wounded Knee) demonstrate that effective political activism requires no less physical courage than that of soldiers and federal agents. Perhaps overpacked with detail at times, Zimmerman’s memoir is, nevertheless, both a thoughtful eyewitness history of America’s war at home and a thrilling political adventure story.
An engaging exhortation to take risks and live a meaningful life."—Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting book. Bill Zimmerman is a shining example of Tom Paine’s ‘winter soldier,’ a patriot his country can count on in dark times to help it end a disastrous policy or realize its highest ideals. The war in Viet Nam, catastrophe that it was, brought out the best in many Americans, he among them. This is an inspiring story of a life committed to a better world. And, what a life! What a story!”
“Bill Zimmerman gives the lie to the old saw that if you remember the ’60s you weren't there. He was there and he remembers. He spent the ’60s making trouble from Mississippi to South Dakota to North Vietnam. You don't have to agree with his politics to agree he has written one hell of a page-turner.”
—Paul Begala, CNN Political Consultant
“Bill Zimmerman’s memoir is a great adventure story since he managed to be engaged in many of the dramatic scenes of civil rights and antiwar struggle in the sixties. We travel with him from Mississippi to Hanoi, from the steps of the Pentagon to Wounded Knee and many points in between, experiencing close-up how the events of the time compelled a brilliant young scientist to radical resistance. Zimmerman’s tales of derring-do are fused with insightful analysis, and a history we thought we knew is retold in surprising and moving ways.”
—Richard Flacks, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara and Co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society
“Bill Zimmerman’s tale is remarkable. I know him as a close colleague who helped create today’s internet-aided progressive resurgence, but he has a spellbinding story to tell of his political adventures in the 1960s and 1970s. Activists today will want to read this inspiring story.”
—Wes Boyd, Co-founder of MoveOn.org
“Bill Zimmerman’s wise and rollicking chronicle of his contrarian transit across the sixties and early seventies (a sort of cross between Zelig, Zorro, and Zapata) can help explain the political and cultural passions of that era, both to those who lived through them and to their progeny, better than any such text has yet managed to do. It’s a vivid tale, elegantly dispatched.”
—Lawrence Weschler, Director, New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU
“Troublemaker lives up to its title in every way. A smart, tough, incisive look at the politics of the ’60s and how they impact us today. A look at the past that gives us a lens on the present. Read it. Then go out and cause trouble.”
— Robert Greenwald, Producer and Director, Brave New Films
Top Customer Reviews
Even though he was an important participant, Zimmerman provides lucid analysis and accurate context for many of the major convulsions of the 1960s and 1970s -- the civil rights movement and the reaction to the change in the social conventions of race; the war in Vietnam and the movement against it; the rise of drug use and the change in sex roles; the battle within the Democratic Party in 1968 and the destruction of President Johnson's re-election bid; and the conflict between the Nixon Administration and its critics.
I am more than a decade younger than Zimmerman. I was a college freshman of six or so weeks experience when I attended the famous 1967 demonstration at the Pentagon. When Zimmerman was there, he already had his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, was teaching at Brooklyn College and was a very experienced activist, organizer and protester, and committed to his life's work for social justice. The youthful experiences I have long been proud of -- my Quaker anti-draft work in the late 1960s -- completely pale in comparison to the sophistication and longevity of Zimmerman's work.
One of the best features of this memoir is the revelation of Zimmerman's continual self-analysis and commitment to effectiveness. This is a model for all of us who think about how to accomplish social change and to achieve justice.
When one considers the activist careers of so many of Zimmerman's peers, his seriousness and intelligence shine brightly by comparison.Read more ›
It's full of great stories--the Wounded Knee air drop is worth the price alone!
But more than just a recital of the times, it also delivers important lessons in the value of troublemaking, and in the lasting effects of building movements. The Sixties had an enormous influence on the politics of today, and not just as a foil for the right. This book makes that very clear, and refuses to accept the right-wing idea that it was all for nought.
Troublemaker operates on several different levels, personal story, narrative of the Sixties, good political analysis, and practical manifesto for the future. It will reward you in many ways.
Unfortunately, this book is not without blemishes. One of them is that Zimmerman gratuitously and inexplicably digresses to savage the hippie movement. Unable to empathize in the least with its spirit, he denigrates it as focused exclusively on "sex, drugs, and rock and roll". Seeing the hippies as socially irresponsible hedonists, he declares that there was an "activist/hippie divide" during the 60s - a divide like that between responsible adults and socially irresponsible kids. Having been a member of both sides of this supposed "divide," I must record my own observations.
The hippie movement, as I knew it, was an extension of the beatnik's anti-war, anti-materialism sentiment, and a critique of our society's obsession with commercialism. Both beatnik and hippie saw our post-WWII consumerist culture as reducing the human individual's value to its mere economic use-value, and upholding the making and spending of money as the meaning of human existence. Unlike the rest of America, the beatniks identified this as a loss of human value and meaning. But the hippies went beyond mere critique, and actually dropped out of that society in the hope of building one more in tune with the deeper needs of the human spirit.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I finished the book a little over a week ago. I had the good fortune to know one of the people in Bill's story and his account of the man and his wife were exactly as I knew them. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mike F.
Read this book! Fifty years ago I would have recommended that you steal this book.Published 19 months ago by Andrew McGuire
Bill Zimmerman was in the thick of the political strife of the sixties and seventies. He is a brave soldier for the struggle for American freedom and liberation from the... Read morePublished on October 30, 2013 by Philip Daughtry
Bill Zimmerman is a genius at building suspense and excitement over what comes next in his journey through every aspect of both the civil disobedience and out right revolution that... Read morePublished on October 24, 2013 by Paul Henry Abram
Troublemaker is an important book - that really everyone should read. This is an underdocumented time of our history. Zimmerman makes vital and relevant. Read morePublished on October 16, 2013 by Dennis Gibbs
Excellent review of 60 activism. highly recommended to understand how a small group of people can change history thru their actions.Published on September 16, 2013 by Tom
A biting account tracing the author's disenchantment with the American system from 1960-1975, his activism in
the civil rights movement, against scientific research utilized... Read more
I remember so much of the history in this book that it is easy for me to think of ways that we ain't seen nothing yet. Read morePublished on December 18, 2012 by no chit