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This intense, involuted book on George Jackson--the significance of his life and death--is the latest installment in the ongoing repudiation of Sixties radicalism. For the author, a Britisher, Jackson had become the embodiment of the authentic radical hero, a steady beacon in the midst of the serf-deceiving bravado of the New Left whose demise he watched with increasing discomfort, ""like a spy."" He came to California expressly to piece together the circumstances of Jackson's bloody death in the 1971 San Quentin shoot-out. Was he set up, executed, as everyone including Durden-Smith believed? The labyrinthine search develops Into a tripartite, prismatic scheme: History as Fiction, History as Fact, History as Feeling. But as he ferrets out ""facts"" he finds them dissolving into mirages; every source he speaks with calls the others informants, agents, double-agents. It's a-dizzying, disorienting story of secret intelligence agencies, private armies training in the Santa Cruz mountains, Panthers, liberal lawyers, ex-cons--the entire nether world of California's politics of paranoia. ""At the crossroads of these fantasies was Jackson,"" all things to all men. His ""people's army"" was infiltrated from the start; he had been smuggled nitro that wasn't nitro and plastique that was putty. Eventually Durden-Smith settles for the view that Jackson was no revolutionary saint, was in fact a manipulative killer who--this may be the hardest bit to swallow--had little to do with Soledad Brother, the book that catapulted him to fame. Along the way he has impugned the credibility of everyone, even (and quite deliberately) himself. As a blurred detective story of Jackson's killing the book is riveting; to make this moment stand for Everything That Was Wrong with the radicalism of the Sixties seems more than the revisionist traffic will bear.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1976
Publisher: Knopf