It's hard to know where to begin with Outlaws of America, Dan Berger's 432-page chronicle of the Weather Underground, the '60s-era group of white, political renegades whose commitment, courage, and intelligence makes most current "militant" activists (Tre Arrow) look like a bunch of reactionary hippies. Berger's bibliography alone is 15 pages long, in tiny type detailing scads of books, news archives, and videos; he also interviewed nearly 50 people involved with the movement.
What emerges from that glut of information is nowhere near as tedious to read as it must have been to sift through. Berger synthesizes his great gobs of data with a research veteran's skill (Outlaws is his first book), streamlining archival records and eyewitness accounts into what could easily come to be considered a seminal historical record of a major era in American protest.
Using the author's recent face-to-face meeting with imprisoned ex-Weatherman David Gilbert as its guide, Outlaws works its way through the group's origins in the anti-imperialist organization Students for a Democratic Society to its late-'60s, early-'70s heyday as a fiery clandestine operation that "brought the war home" by bombing the shit out of strategic government and corporate institutions, to its ultimate demise in the face of in-fighting and post-Vietnam activist-apathy.
An activist himself, Berger has great love and respect for the Weather Underground and Gilbert in particular, a brilliant Columbia grad serving out a life sentence in a sneakily repressive country "where amnesty is a forbidden term." But he doesn't let his emotional investment take over. One of the Weathermen's guiding principles was self-analysis and criticism, a technique Outlaws follows too, addressing what the group did right, and also what they did wrong with meticulous documentation. Comprehensive, it's an ideal intro to the world of militant protest, but should be read by seasoned activists as well—for the lessons that can be learned from the legacy of a magnificently flawed, thunderously impactive protest group.