Erxleben recounts his eventful career as a federal attorney and his struggle to maintain his idealism in the face of human folly.
Debut author Erxleben was born in Chicago in 1942, and the specter of his father’s powerful figure loomed large over his life; he was politically and religiously conservative and an unrelenting disciplinarian. When he died, the author felt “emancipated from the authoritarianism of his rule” and “free to forge my own path.” Erxleben attended Miami University and Stanford Law School and served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War stationed in Great Falls, Montana, a “pleasant sanctuary” in comparison to the chaos of battle raging in Asia. He accepted a position as assistant attorney general for Washington state, a job that secured him an early release from his military duties, and within his inaugural year, he participated “in two of the most celebrated criminal trials in Washington State history.” One involved the prosecution of corrupt police officers and the other the infamous “Seattle Seven,” leftist revolutionaries charged with inciting violence. Later, Erxleben won an appointment as the Seattle regional director of the Federal Trade Commission and was charged with the challenging task of effecting deep “structural reform” of a bureaucracy sorely needing it. At the heart of the author’s exceedingly thoughtful account of his professional efforts is the struggle against a slide into cynicism, the natural result of bearing witness to so much moral turpitude: “I struggle to be optimistic, which is understandable, I suppose, since pessimism about the future seems to come easily to those of German descent. After all, Wagner’s Ring Cycle does end with Valhalla in flames.” Erxleben’s remembrance is as lucidly written as philosophically searching—Kierkegaard and Socrates interest him as much as Nixon. His account of the legal cases can be microscopically detailed, a granular perspective that might not grip the legal layperson. However, he furnishes not only an edifying account of the foibles of government, but also of a turbulent time in America, when many were infatuated by the allure of “violent leftist revolution.”
A perspicacious reflection on a tumultuous era in American history.