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Books The Harvard Strike

By James M. Fallows

Houghton Mifflin: $6.95 hardbound, $3.95 paperback.

AS THE ??? ??? of Harvard Strike ??? ?? into bookstores around town, ??? hard to avoid a sense of deep ???. It may be only ??? that a ??? like last spring's would ??? off uncounted millions of ??? ???. Even so, after a certain number ?? committee reports newspaper columns, and personal ??? of what-the-strike-meant-to-me, the ??? ??? begs for relief. Some of the most recent ??? ???. Steven Kelman's ??? Push Comes to Shove. suggests that the most ??? by-product of a university rebellion may be the ??? ??? at provokes.

In this ??? setting. The Harvard Strike shines. T??? the great credit of its authors, the book has escaped ??? ?? the obvious ??? of the genre. The writers-four reporters for WHRB-do not attack the facts with ??? hatchets sharpened. While their ??? are obviously with the "mode??? students." they do not try to dis?ort the events to ??? their personal ??? of the Truth. ??? their ??? to give "??? account of the events which led ??? the ??? and the crisis that resulted."

They succeed, and the result is probably the best narrative history that is likely to come from the strike. The most important ingredient in their success is the study ??? base that sits under their work. After a summer of interviews and research. they have collected enough information to cover all the major angles of the strike and piece together a coherent picture of what went on.

Along the way. they have also pried out some fascinating incidents from ??? regions. The section describing how President Pusey decided-at 6:20 the night before the bust-to call in police is an excellent reporting job and a revealing glance into the administrative skull. The book also shows the fruits of diligent research in its passages on Afro-American studies.

The authors have been none too daring in providing an interpretive framework for these events. But their analysis, if conventional, seems to match what actually happened. All the standard components of a university eruption-society turning sour, kids getting fed up with the war. etc., radicals itching to kick good old Harvard in the shins-were there, the book says:

All the university lacked was a cause, a political issue that would set off the seemingly inevitable clash between the radicals and the administration. In September, 1968, that issue appeared: the status of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). the university's most obvious link to the military establishment.

The analysis is not uniformly sound, and from time to time the authors veer into simple-mindedness when discussing the motives of SDS or the malaise of the moderates. Those incidents are not overwhelming. however, and the book's basic merit outweighs them.

WITH ALL this going for it, it is a shame that The Harvard Strike has a flaw: much of it ?s unreadable. Through a number of verbal and conceptual errors. the authors have smothered parts of their story in gooey. impenetrable prose. "Boring" is too simple a term for the complex problems that plague the book, but readers may find the effect much the same.

The central problem is the Encyclopedia Theory of History with which the authors have tackled their subject. In their eagerness to provide the definitive account of the spring events. the authors have crammed far too many names, dates, resolutions, and background details into the story. Throughout the crowded pages, they have been too timid about summarizing peripheral facts in order to highlight important ones. Unless readers assume that trivial details at Harvard are somehow more interesting than the same minutiae elsewhere, there is no reason for the profusion of data.

In the first pages of the book, the authors give fair warning of what is ahead. They open up with a two-page verbatim passage from a Crimson Key tour of the Yard, and follow with a chapter of background detail about Harvard-its history, finances, Houses. morals, presidents, religions, faculty, famous personalities. bright students, governing boards, surrounding city, admission policy, and on and on. If half this chapter and chunks of la??? ones had been lost at the printers. the book would??? be tighter and more readers would fight their wa??? to the finish.

Adding to the surfeit of facts is another problem???-the authors prose style. The book is made ??? the kind of durable, unpretentious journalese that ??? has filled newspapers for years. It is clear, usually ??? concise, and rarely awkward or bumbling. But since ??? it lacks any literary sparkle of its own, it mean ??? that each paragraph is only as interesting as the ??? events being described. In The Harvard Strike, tha ??? makes for a few high points and quite a few lows ???.

The high spots center, predictably enough, around ??? the most spectacular moment-the police raid on??? University Hall. In one of their rare excursions into ??? the land of simile, the authors present a striking ??? scene:

In the reception room of Dean Glimp's office, ??? girl stood with blood trickling down from a cu??? in the center of her forehead. A state trooper ??? stepped up, and like an artist evaluating a profile, ??? placed his left hand on her shoulder and steadied ??? her chin with ?s thumb. The tenderness of his ??? grasp was deceiving. With his free hand, he raised ??? his long club over his head, and with a deliberateness which belied the force of his blow, brought ??? the club crashing down on the girl's head. The ??? force of the swing nearly lifted the trooper from ?? the floor: the girl screamed, and blood cascaded onto Dean Glimp's charcoal-blue carpeting.

The action is not always that compelling, and neither is the prose. Aside from a few delighted strike anecdotes-President Pusey peering at the ??? bust through binoculars from his uptsairs window. Hugh Calkins scooting out of a limousine and ??? walking to an engagement in order to keep up the right appearances. Archie Epps taking a poke at the radicals who were hustling him out of University Hall-the book is generally slow going. The pace nearly slogs to a halt when the book gets into the workings of the various Moderate Student groups after the bust. Readers will have to be very. very interested in the adventures of the Holworthy Group or the Committee on Radical Structural-Reform to digest those chapters.

They also have a certain tendency to cliche shown most clearly in their chapters on SDS. Sometimes they even develop a love for their own phrase and words. For example, they tell us in an early passage about university malcontents that:

The same students who envisioned the university as a utopian community sought a life style equally as revolutionary. Their life style was best described by the word spontaneity. The key to spontaneity was expression. . . . These students found enjoyment in activities that encouraged expression of feeling: hard rock music, sex, long hair, creative and flashy clothes.

Several pages later, describing the difference between the New Left and Worker-Student camps of SDS, they say:

New Left and WSA members also differed in their life styles. The New Left. . . approved of any breaking away from societal norms: long hair, drugs, sex, spontaneity were all part of the New Left style.

The same brand of cliched sociology also turns up in the book's pronouncements about general student unrest. Most college students, the authors tell us, were:

disgusted with the abuses of American society; they were the alienated generation. Their social consciences had been activated by the hope and progress of the civil rights movement in the early 1960's. But in the past two years, they had been sickened by the violence in the cities which gave clear evidence of promises still unfulfilled. Their faith in American society and in its symbols of authority had been undermined by the tragic assassinations of the leaders who had been symbols of hope.

There are other minor irritants-the authors' use of footnotes, for example. While the text is dotted with notes telling what the authors were do?? during all the excitement (Luskin ate Dean For??? abandoned lunch in University Hall: Neustad made speeches). there are no notes to explain where or when various celebrities made comment ??? attributed to them in the book (e.g. "President Pusey commented later, "The students there reacted like trained white rats. Bops. Clubs. Bust. Boom.")

But these flaws are easy to pick out only because the book is otherwise competently handled. You saw the action; now read the book.

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