In Bryan Burrough’s most recent book, Days of Rage, he tells in great detail why sometimes anger just isn’t enough.
If Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence – the most recent book by Vanity Fair writer Bryan Burrough – has any central moral, it’s that societal violence and disruption solve very little.
For all the violence that was perpetrated by the various extremist counter-culture groups in the late-1960’s through mid-1980’s, Days of Rage lets it be known that the ends and means never quite meetup. After their “revolutions,” America was still racially segregated, Puerto Rico was still not independent, and wars continued to rage half a world away. But unlike most books, Days of Rage drives this point home not through the evangelizing that violence is never the answer, but through intricate details about the counter-culture movements themselves.
Days of Rage meticulously chronicles various extremist groups of the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Groups like the Weather Underground, Symbionese Liberation Army, the FALN, Black Liberation Army, and others are meticulously documented. Even though much has been written about these groups – you could easily fill a whole bookshelf about the Weather Underground alone – it’s Burrough’s attention to specific details that set Days of Rage apart. He really does focus on the minutia of these extremist counter-culture groups (how they dress, meeting rituals, ect.), while at the same time creating a comprehensive list of these various organizations. Because of this, there are times that Days of Rage reads like “The Big Book of American Counter-Culture Groups,” that while being informative, can feel a bit reference bookish.
Yet the biggest knock against Days of Rage is how Burrough reports on most of these groups. As said, Burrough does do an excellent job of creating a comprehensive guide thick with detail, however by focusing on the who, what, where, and when, many times he just glosses over the why. For many readers, the why is the most vital point.
Burrough tries to tie these counter-culture groups together under the guise of disillusionment. For the major players in many of these extremist groups, Burrough believes their profiles to follow the same chain of: idealist to disillusionment to anger to finally violence. While this through line of logic is sound, the idiosyncrasies of these groups are what make them interesting. Days of Rage focuses on the idiosyncrasies of the other four-w’s and leaves many questions regarding the why unexplored. There is no denying that many similarities between groups like the Weather Underground and Black Liberation Army were present, but saying it was just anger and discontent essentially trivializes their efforts to young-adults having violent temper tantrums. Based on Burrough’s own reporting, there was definitely more going on there.
With all that said, it’s hard not to like Days of Rage. Burrough creates a comprehensive and well researched book on the extremist counter-culture groups that it gives the reader a solid overview on the subject. Just don’t expect it to go any deeper than that.
Burrough, Bryan. Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. Penguin Press, 2015.
(Photo Credits: Wes Modes, Amazon.com)