A much-needed, welcome gathering of work by the radical journalist and crusading editor.
A cross between Christopher Hitchens and Joseph Mitchell, with some of the personal habits of Hunter Thompson, Hinckle (1938-2016) cut a piratical figure around downtown San Francisco, eyepatch and all, never far from a shot and a pint. For all his dissolute ways, he was whip-smart, caught between embracing his Jesuitical education and rejecting its premises. The title of this anthology of writings begins on a Catholic note—the “pagan babies” in question are Chinese, the church, “authority without terror,” committed to baptizing them lest they go unsaved—that continues throughout, if with an unorthodox body of working-class saints to celebrate. One of the author’s heroes, for instance, is the deep-red labor activist Harry Bridges, who integrated the Bay Area’s maritime unions by going, “with the wisdom of the radical,” to black churches and asking workers not to cross picket lines, promising that blacks would be enrolled on the waterfront if they resisted the temptation to scab. Later, as editor of the muckraking leftist monthly Ramparts—well, sort of monthly, since it printed when the stars in Hinckle’s mind were in alignment—he spearheaded a stunningly comprehensive investigation of racial inequality in Oakland, where, if you are in the roughly half of the population below the poverty line, you “go to jail when you are told, only pass Go when you receive permission.” The volume editors, one a longtime Hinckle associate, capably work their way through an embarrassment of riches, giving plenty of room to his sketches of memorable characters such as Monty the Duck, Hydro Willy, and the Rev. Willis Egan (“he bought the drinks, which turned out to be a good thing as he drank like a Jesuit fish”) and his incisive studies of moments like the killing of Harvey Milk and the near-simultaneous—and, in his mind, connected—tragedy of Jonestown.
Essential for students of journalism, particularly local and long-form, and a pleasure for anyone who values lively prose.