June 19, 2004

Max, Wayne, Peace, and Hope

I was poking around at the local used book store, and I found a book called Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che, by Max Elbaum. I'd never heard of this particular book, though I'm vaguely aware of Elbaum, who is a former SDS guy who went on to become a founder of one of the new communist youth movement groups in the 70s.

Readers of this blog from way back when I used to write a lot more about politics will know that I am just a little obsessed with the New Left, and 60s radicals and the terrorists among them. Whenever I see a new book on the subject, I usually buy it. I want to know as much as I can.

I'm not totally certain why the subject has such a pull on me, except that the more I learn about these 60s and 70s fringe-ees, the more I feel I understand about the semi-crazy world I grew up in. Because the decaying vestiges of the New Left formed something like a hidden, and, once you notice it, unexpectedly illuminating, background to everyday life in northern California in the 1970s when I was a kid. Or so I fancy.

Anyway, this particular book has an inscription scrawled on the first page. It appears to be from the author, Max Elbaum, and is addressed to a guy named Wayne:


The story of another chapter in our movement's history. Here's to making sense of it and bringing our energy and ideas and values into the future.

Peace and Hope,


Sadly, Wayne appears to have sold the book to the used bookstore, and moreover the book appears to have been unread. Maybe Wayne felt he already knew everything he needed to know about the Movement. Or he just needed five bucks.

I'll be wondering about Wayne and his energy and ideas and values all the while while I'm reading the book. Patria o muerte. Venceremos.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 19, 2004 11:50 PM | TrackBack

"The" local used bookstore? When I lived there, the Bay Area was jammed with used bookstores. Also library sales. I miss it so! I want to go back! Waaa!

I'm always sad when I find very personal inscriptions in used books. I bought a book at a library sale in Sydney that had a very long inscription from the author, thanking the addressee for his help in getting the author settled in Australia. It was one of those Springer Verlag tomes on plasma physics. I bought it feeling a little indignant that the recipient gave it away after such gratitude. Also, I thought my boyfriend might like it.

Then I thought, well, maybe the recipient died, and his grieving widow dumped all his professional books. That cheered me up.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at June 20, 2004 06:07 PM

It would seem to me that selling the book to the used bookstore is all part of the master plan. How better to get the ideas into the future?

In other related news, I thought of some of your blog posts this morning when I checked out weatherunderground.com (also wunderground.com) to see if this amazing cool weather would keep up. For some reason I hadn't connected the name to the terrorist group before. Seems they've successfully morphed into a quality competitor of weather.com.

Posted by: Dave Bug at June 20, 2004 09:02 PM

I've read Revolution in the Air, and I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.

My take (do nonfiction books require spoiler alerts?): it's a pretty solid survey of the historical facts, the ideological currents that influenced the New Left, and their various mutations over the course of the '70s. There's a lot in here that you can't find anywhere else. For a fringe-politics junkie like me, the tales of factional splits, re-splits, and warfare makes for interesting reading. And, of course, the era's bizarre ideological postures (Albania as worker's paradise, anyone?) never fail to entertain.

The problem for me is that, although he makes a show of it, Elbaum doesn't seem really serious about dealing with the dark side. I'm of the opinion that the New Left, on balance, did more to marginalize left ideals than to advance them, and that this legacy of willful disengagement is still a problem today. I would've appreciated a more sober examination of the wreckage.

Elbaum is too willing to take groups and ideologues at their words rather than really examining their undemocratic, counterproductive, or just plain crazy actions. He tells the story through a gauzy, Big Chill, what-a-long-strange-trip filter. And from what I remember, he still seems ambivalent about Mao himself, one of history's greatest butchers and the supreme bastardizer of socialist ideals.

Posted by: Jason Toon at June 21, 2004 06:18 PM

i used to work at a bookstore and one time this woman returned this book to the store and it had a loving inscription resembling:

Dear Marla,
I am so glad to have known you and been your friend for the past 13 years, our friendship makes my life more special. I hope this book will serve as a reminder of the times we spent over the years.

I just wonder if this woman is the most cold hearted person ever or just never saw the inscription (not sure how that's possible).

Posted by: myke at June 22, 2004 06:28 PM

Myke, if you're not making that story up, that's got to be one of the best examples of "found" text ever; certainly the funniest and saddest sold book inscription I've ever heard of. It's a funny old world.

Jason: thanks for the well-stated and interesting preview. I haven't had a chance to start reading it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I enjoy a factional split story myself...

Posted by: Dr. Frank at June 24, 2004 03:43 PM

"For a fringe-politics junkie like me, the tales of factional splits, re-splits, and warfare makes for interesting reading. And, of course, the era's bizarre ideological postures (Albania as worker's paradise, anyone?) never fail to entertain."

Someone tell Madonna about this book. Now THAT'S punk rock!

Posted by: Nick at June 27, 2004 03:59 AM

it's definitely true. no one at the store could believe it. i just remember being just as amazed at the poignancy of the inscription as i was at the fact someone traded it in. funny world indeed.

Posted by: myke at June 27, 2004 09:33 AM

Frank, after I wrote the comment above, I remembered an even more interesting inscription I found in a book I bought at a library sale. I wrote about it over at my blog. I'd have included the link, but your comments software doesn't allow HTML, so you'll just have to go on over there and look for "Lost, and Found" if you're interested (June 25).

Posted by: Angie Schultz at June 28, 2004 02:47 PM


Posted by: 456 at January 20, 2005 08:14 PM


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