Bill Newman's book will inspire American individualism

Special to The Recorder

“When the War Came Home” by Bill Newman (Levellers Press, 248 pages, $18.95)

The title “When the War Came Home” refers to the day in May 1970 when the Ohio National Guard shot a group of anti-Vietnam-war protesters at Kent State University. Four were killed; nine, wounded.

Bill Newman of Northampton was a student at Antioch College in Ohio in 1970. The Kent State tragedy shook him and others of his generation, imbuing them with a semi-permanent mistrust of government.

Newman has spent his career fighting against government overreach, as an attorney and as the long-time director of the western Massachusetts office of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has also written extensively, primarily in a regular column for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“When the War Came Home” revisits essays he has penned in the Gazette and elsewhere. Some deal with the Kent State era. Others argue for ongoing reform of the penal system and the death penalty. Some wax personal, describing adventures and bonds with his children, parents, grandparents and even dogs.

The personal and political pieces blend together in terms of style and substance. For a writer like Newman, the personal is political; the political, personal.

As the essays swirl together, they convey the impression of a good man — someone who works hard for the things in which he believes, who tries to help those in need, who honors his neighbors.

Even readers who don’t share Newman’s politics will end up liking this author. They will also appreciate his graceful and witty writing.

He writes with passion and with maturity. When he argues a point, he does so gently, marshalling facts but never hitting the reader over the head with them. Above all, he writes with humor. He laughs at the strange world in which he lives, at fireflies, at editors who have altered his prose and at himself.

Taken as a whole, his book paints a picture of a generation with which we are familiar in the Pioneer Valley, those for whom anti-war activism in youth led to lifelong activism of many sorts.

We don’t always celebrate the members of this generation enough. They have made our world better and continue to draw attention to ways in which it could be improved.

In the final analysis, the title “When the War Came Home” represents more than Vietnam and Kent State. This book should inspire readers to join Newman in waging an ongoing war at home — a war to keep people and government honest, a war to end discrimination of all sorts, a war to live up to American idealism.

Author reading Thursday

Newman will read from “When the War Came Home” on Thursday, July 10, at 6:30 p.m. at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@TinkyCooks.com. For more information about Tinky, visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.

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