cover image FUGITIVE DAYS: A Memoir


William C. Ayers, William Ayers, . . Beacon, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7124-3

"Memory is a motherfucker," begins 1960s-era political activist and Weather Underground member Ayers, who went underground with several comrades after their co-conspirators' bomb accidentally exploded in 1970, destroying a Greenwich Village townhouse and killing some of the activists involved. Ayers (A Kind and Just Parent), now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, grew up well-to-do, attended private schools and became politicized at the University of Michigan. He describes his spiraling New Left involvement as he became aware of what he casts as the injustice of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, inner-city race relations, and police brutality and battle tactics, especially in Chicago during demonstrations at the 1969 Democratic convention. The terrific first half of the memoir details 1950s and '60s U.S. culture—his own childhood, shaped by images of the atomic bomb and TV war movies; the influence of Bob Dylan, Mao and Che Guevara on American youth—but the book really takes off once he goes underground. He and his colleagues invent identities (often using names such as Nat Turner or Emma Goldman), travel continuously and avoid the police and FBI as Nixon bombs Cambodia and My Lai is ravaged. Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised two children underground before turning themselves in in 1981, when most charges were dropped because of "extreme governmental misconduct" during the long search for the fugitives. Written without self-righteousness or apology, this memoir rings of hard-learned truth and integrity and is an important contribution to literature on 1960s culture and American radicalism. (Sept.)

Forecast:With advance praise from Hunter S. Thompson, Scott Turow, Studs Terkel and Rosellen Brown, plus a 20-city author tour, this ringing account should attract considerable review attention and solid sales .