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BOOK REVIEW

From past radical to present egoist

Fugitive Days Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist Bill Ayers With a New Afterword by the Author Beacon Press: 316 pp., $15 paper

December 14, 2008|Jim Newton | Newton is editor of The Times' editorial pages.

If Ayers' memoir is a bust, its history is a fascinating case study in modern media politics. The release of "Fugitive Days" could not have been more cursed, debuting as it did just days before 9/11 and accompanied by a fateful New York Times piece in which Ayers wistfully declaimed that he wished he and his colleagues had done more to end the Vietnam War. The timing of that article -- it appeared on Sept. 11, 2001 -- pretty much ensured that "Fugitive Days" would repel its audience. But when McCain and his vice presidential sidekick cynically manipulated Ayers' relationship with Obama, the wheel turned again: Yesterday's unrepentant bomber became today's right-wing victim.

So now Ayers is back, sporting a new edition of his book with a couple of nice blurbs, including one from Studs Terkel, who's praised in the text and returned the favor before he died in October. Ayers has become a sought-after interview, proudly displaying the lashes inflicted by a desperate and unprincipled campaign that turned on him when it couldn't run effectively against Obama.

After decades of screaming and protesting, writing and teaching, getting arrested and blowing up stuff, he finally received from John McCain, of all people, that which he has so fiercely sought: the attention of an audience. It's too bad he doesn't have more to say.

--

jim.newton@latimes.com

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