Flying Close to the Sun

Flying Close to the Sun

My Life and Times as A Weatherman

Book - 2007
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The memoir of a white middle-class girl from the suburbs who became a terrorist - a bomb-maker for the Weather Underground - and then came to learn lessons from the 1960s that other radicals may not necessarily have cottoned on to. Wilkerson, who famously blew up and escaped from her parents' Greenwich Village townhouse, wrestles with the contradictions of a revolutionary movement: the absence of women's voices; the incompetence and the egos; the hundreds of bombs detonated in protest, taking lives without ever causing revolutionary foment.
Publisher: New York : Seven Stories Press, 2007.
ISBN: 9781583227718
Branch Call Number: 322.42092 W681w
Characteristics: ix, 422 p. : ports ; 23 cm.

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As our two-party system disintegrates, I have been drawn to books by or about people who were active during similar moments of upheaval or realignment in American history. Cathy Wilkerson's book tracks her upper-middle-class upbringing (her father was an executive for Young & Rubicam; it was his Greenwich Village townhouse that went up in smoke in March of 1970 and made the Weatherman infamous); her education at elite private girls schools and then on to Swarthmore College where she first became involved with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and grassroots political activism. As a year-by-year primer from 1965 on how the Movement went from being focused on civil rights to the struggle to end the war in Vietnam this is a tremendous, page-turning narrative. You get it all: the importance of the Columbia University occupation and the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 for the enormous growth spurt SDS experienced, and with it the whole rock star "Up against the wall, motherf***r," "Off the pigs" radical chic; the split of SDS in June 1969 with the Weatherman faction taking control of the organization; the huge impact the events of December 1969 -- the police assassination of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton while he slept in his bed, press revelations about the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles, the Hell's Angels riot at Altamont, Seymour Hersh's publication of the My Lai massacre -- in driving the Weatherman underground. And then the accidental explosion set off by Wilkerson's fellow Weatherman and lover Terry Robbins when he was making bombs to blow up at Fort Dix. Wilkerson's account of the event -- she was one floor above in the kitchen ironing sheets when the townhouse blew apart -- is incredible.

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