Margaret and David Talbot. Credit: Nina Subin and Hoodline

Americans have short memories. Our failure to read history leads us to believe that nothing in our past could equal the dangers posed by the crises that threaten us today. We forget those times when the nation’s very existence hung in the balance. 1776, when the American project might well have foundered in its infancy. 1861, when the country shattered into two warring states. 1941, when we entered a global war we could have lost. And 1971. Then, movements for radical change erupted in every corner and 2,500 terrorist bombs went off in the United States. More than 300,000 US military personnel served in Vietnam as the year dawned. And Richard Nixon sat scheming to hold onto power in the White House.

In By the Light of Burning Dreams, David Talbot and Margaret Talbot take us back to that tumultuous time 50 years ago. They trace “the sweeping social and cultural transformations of the 1960s and ’70s” — the second American Revolution.

By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution by David Talbot and Margaret Talbot (2021) 400 pages ★★★★★ 

Movements for radical change raised the hope of millions

“This second revolution,” they write, “forced the country to change its assumptions about race, war and peace, gender, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, labor justice, consumer responsibility, and environmental protection.” It’s a painful story to read because it highlights how sadly incomplete that revolution proved to be. And it brings to mind the ferocity of the right-wing reaction that followed later in the 1970s and beyond, setting the stage for the sad state of the American scene today.

A second American Revolution comprising seven interconnected movements for radical change

The Talbot siblings tell their tale by profiling some of the major protagonists of the movement behind that second revolution. A handful of them—Cesar Chavez (1927-93), Tom Hayden (1939-2016), John Lennon (1940-80), Dennis Banks (1937-2017)—are still widely recognizable today. Others are less well remembered. In the seven chapters that follow their introduction, the Talbots successively spotlight some of the most compelling personalities of the 1960s and 70s.” Each chapter,” they write, “focuses on climactic events or turning points in the lives of radical leaders who were driving the” change. Their account encompasses the movements for economic democracy, Black Power, abortion rights, the farmworkers’ struggle, gay liberation, peace, and Native American rights. And they make clear in the telling that these movements often overlapped and interconnected.

Continue reading this review on Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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Freelancer Mal Warwick's reviews on his blog, occasionally appear on Berkeleyside. He is an author, entrepreneur, and impact investor who is one of three partners in One World Play Project, and founder...