Parallel biographies of three notorious 1960s graduates of a left-wing New York high school.
The Little Red School House, in Greenwich Village, was founded in 1932 by committed leftists and expanded into the Elisabeth Irwin High School 10 years later. In her debut, journalist and “Little Red” alumna Hampton traces the lives of three of the high school’s graduates: Angela Davis, ’61, and Tom Hurwitz and Elliott Abrams, both ’65. In the early ’60s, the school hewed to an old-left, Marxist line, to which these three students responded very differently. Davis, who entered in her junior year after living in segregated Birmingham, found classic communism a revelation to which she has steadfastly clung. Hurwitz, instrumental in the seizure of buildings at Columbia University by Students for a Democratic Society and later in the GIs Against the Vietnam War movement, chafed under the old thinking and reveled in the frenetic activity of the New Left—until he found himself on the receiving end of some Maoist criticism and was ejected from a California collective for being insufficiently revolutionary. Abrams began his political odyssey as a Humphrey liberal and ended as a prominent neoconservative, brought down by the Iran-Contra scandal and still widely vilified by other alumni. Hampton ably maintains an evenhanded respect for her subjects’ widely varying political positions as she explores their evolution over the years, but it is her narrative skills that truly shine. Her evocation of the heady, impulsive spirit of the university-building–occupation era, awash in drugs, sex and over-the-top Marxist rhetoric, is pitch-perfect. Davis’ arrest and 1972 trial for murder in the death of a California judge are presented as a gripping courtroom thriller, counterbalanced later by the inexorable pursuit of Abrams by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
A capable and compelling memoir of the ’60s and its varied political legacies as reflected in the lives of three survivors.