March 5, 2012
Though Gilbert is still in prison after almost 30 years for the botched 1981 Brink’s robbery, these are not prison memoirs. Rather, Gilbert (No Surrender) reflects thoughtfully on his development as a leftist organizer and revolutionary in the context of the social tumult of the 1960s and ’70s, driven by a fundamental desire “to get America to live up to its ideals of democracy for all.” In a conflicted and conflict-ridden period of cold war anticommunism, civil rights struggle, Black Power, antiwar organizing, class divides, a burgeoning youth counterculture, and second-wave feminism, Gilbert’s political education and personal growth sometimes painfully intertwined, as he relates in candid passages detailing his failings as well as advances vis-à-vis colleagues, peers, and lovers, including longtime partner and fellow revolutionary Kathy Boudin. Some sections of this loosely chronological narrative, spiced with older diary entries, are more grounded than others. Inside knowledge of flashpoints—the breakup of SDS, the Weathermen’s springing of Timothy Leary from jail, or the beginnings of a rift between the renamed Weather Underground and Black Panthers—add to the historical record or underscore the complexities of the movement, while glosses on larger historical events or figures (the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Bob Dylan) prove less novel. However, such lively ruminating from someone on the inside of important recent history makes for vital reading.