Ph.D. University of California, Davis; Associate Professor
As intellectual history, the book provides a nice overview of the many dilemmas and contradictions that surrounded SDS. Student movements are inher ently unstable, as younger radical underlings constantly challenge established leaders. Such movements are always shifting around as leaders and members continually change, and SDS was no exception. Within SDS, specific goals varied over time and were often hotly disputed. Local chapters differed in con cerns, in quality of leadership, and in effectiveness. Because it is difficult to describe SDS as a single entity, previous studies have each conveyed only part of a complex story. David Barber’s insightful and able book joins accounts by Kirkpatrick Sale, Jim Miller, Tom Hayden, and Todd Gitlin. Barber tries to locate a sensible overall pattern that fits all the details, and he has succeeded in doing so. Themes about race, empire, and gender are traced in multiple directions, and this study is especially useful on the final days, when fragments of SDS warred with each other. Reflecting a lifetime of thinking, Barber is persuasive that whiteness played a major role inside SDS. The book is a welcome addition to the literature on the 1960s.
W. J. Rorabaugh, author of Berkeley at War: the 1960s
A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed is a model of committed historical writing. It passionately tells two important stories, describing first and excitingly the process of radicalization that brought Students for a Democratic Society together. It then details the limits of such radicalization, especially around gender and race, showing how suddenly and thoroughly the group came apart. Barber writes with a sense of urgency and possibility born of participating in the history that he describes, and with the deep and discerning commitment and close research necessary to learn from that history.
David R. Roediger, author of History Against Misery
The result of a lifetime of research and thought about why the white New Left and SDS failed, this brilliant historical study by David Barber proves that our terrible strategic choices especially revolutionary guerilla warfare' were due to our putting ourselves at the center of the coming revolution, instead of actually assessing, humbly, what our tasks really were. His is neither a right-wing attack on all radicals' nor a left-wing justification of good intentions gone awry. Rather, it is a mature, fully-reasoned critique of how racism, sexism, and national chauvinism produced a blinding arrogance. Amazingly, James Baldwin makes a posthumous appearance in each chapter as a kind of chorus helping the reader understand the dilemmas facing both black and whites in this land of white supremacy. Students of the New Left in the U.S. for generations to come should start with this book.
Mark Rudd, cofounder of the Weather Underground
"A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed is the best book I've ever written!" exclaims UTM history professor, David Barber.
History 201: US History to 1877
History 202: US History 1877 to the Present
History 484: African History, 15th Century to the Present
History 496: US History, 1900-1945
History 497: US History, 1945-Present
History 498: History of the Sixties
James Baldwin on History:
" History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this."
James Baldwin, 1965