The Goodreads hivemind correctly outlines the two distinguishing characteristics of this book:
To the author’s credit — or perhaps to my discredit — the former is, at times, a pretty strong vehicle for the latter. Burrough depicts the various would-be revolutionaries as receptacles of almost any possible vice you can imagine: one is a sociopath, one is a harlot, one is a very sweet and impressionable idiot, one is a foolish idealist.
Burrough’s thesis unifying this motley crew is simple, and he uses an ex-member to spit it outright in the book’s epilogue: these people are cult members and cult leaders who accomplished nothing of societal value and killed innocent people.
It’s hard to disagree with that, but it’s also hard to fit that prescriptivism into a book that is so dense with action and fact. I think he was at his best (as a journalist and an orator) when he lingered on the descriptions of the victims and marginal character in the stories: the hapless Brinx driver who got shot on his fifteenth year of faithful service, the young woman just trying to wait tables who falls victim to a planted bomb.
The “accomplished nothing” bit is a little weird, though. Clearly Burrough doesn’t subscribe to the Great Man theory of history, but his portrayal of social change would have you believe in something closer to divine entropy: the world changed and became more liberal (in spite of nothing, and certainly not because of the rampant civil unrest); the Vietnam War ended (in spite of nothing, and certainly not because of the Weather Underground); hippiedom became the prevailing aesthetic (in spite of nothing, and certainly not because of the post-war left).
His social arguments aside, the book was good! It was incredibly detailed. I learned a whole lot of history, and it was entertaining. I don’t subscribe to Burrough’s thesis, but I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more on the topic.