In 1970, Kathy Boudin, revolutionary Weatherman, fled the ruins of a town house on West Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village after a bomb that was being made there exploded, killing three people, and America’s sympathy with radicalism fell apart. The Weathermen had started as angry kids who planted stink bombs and emulated the Black Panthers, but the bomb they were building on Eleventh Street was deadly. Kathy, daughter of the celebrated lawyer Leonard Boudin, third generation of the famous Boudin family, emerged naked from the wreckage, was given some clothes by a neighbor, slipped into the night, and went underground for the next eleven years, her name soon appearing on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
Susan Braudy tells the riveting story of the Boudin family circle through four generations. She writes of Kathy Boudin’s childhood, growing up in Manhattan in an ambitious, liberal New York Jewish family, daughter of a revered left-wing labor and civil liberties lawyer and an intellectual poet mother.
Braudy writes of Kathy’s parents; her father, Leonard, who patterned his life after that of his uncle, the great labor lawyer and leftist legal scholar, Louis B. Boudin (in the 1930s he fought in court for new laws to protect and organize labor unions and was one of the foremost translators and interpreters of Karl Marx). Leonard Boudin fought on behalf of dissenters on the left. He argued the cases of Paul Robeson and the two-time convicted spy Judith Coplon before the Supreme Court, forcing the U.S. government to allow free travel to all citizens and preventing the admission of illegally gathered evidence, rulings that crucially curtailed the power of J. Edgar Hoover.
Braudy writes of Boudin’s legal work on behalf of such clients as Rockwell Kent and Julian Bond; his defense of Fidel Castro in connection with his seizure of American capital in Cuba; his case on behalf of Dr. Benjamin Spock (arrested for protesting the Vietnam War; Boudin put the war, not Dr. Spock, on trial); and his case on behalf of Daniel Ellsberg, helping him to leak the Pentagon Papers, which set the stage for Nixon’s resignation. We see Kathy’s mother, Jean Boudin, poet and intellectual, an orphan taken in by a cultivated Jewish family whose circle included Marc Blitzstein and Clifford Odets; her courtship and marriage to Leonard (they were toasted as “the most gorgeous couple of the left”); her years as the dutiful, devoted wife to a husband who conducted countless affairs; her suicide attempt when Kathy was nine.
And we see Leonard’s lifelong mentor and competitor—his brother-in-law, the brilliant, scrappy independent journalist and government critic I. F. Stone, a born leader and fighter who made war on government bureaucrats (believing they usurped power) and on his deadly enemy, J. Edgar Hoover.
We follow Kathy at Bryn Mawr, organizing the school’s maids to demand fair wages, graduating magna cum laude in the top five of her class; failing to get into Yale Law School (while her brother was a star at Harvard); helping to plan the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the “Days of Rage” that followed; breaking Black Panther Assata Shakur out of jail; bombing the headquarters of the Manhattan Police Department and the Capitol in Washington; and finally, in 1981, being part of the botched robbery of a Brinks truck that turned into a bloodbath (two policemen and one Brinks guard were killed), which resulted in her trial with her father as her lawyer; her years in Bedford Hills prison as a model prisoner, teacher, and AIDS activist—and her release after twenty-two years.
A huge, rich, riveting book—a story of idealism and passion; of law and brilliant legal minds; of political intrigue and government witch-hunts; of SDS and the Days of Rage; of Vietnam protests and underground revolutionary terrorism; and of the golden family at the center of this vortex, who came to be seen through five decades as the very emblem of the American left.