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Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman…

Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)

by Norman Mailer

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420637,996 (3.75)7

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There is a last line in this book, which comes from Mailer's own mouth. As a Progressive, he confronts a tearful protester, angered by the arrests of the Progressives in the Chicago riots, "Dear Miss," he could have told her, "We will be fighting for forty years." But here we are fifty years on and the struggle isn't over yet. Sixty years?
Oh, this book is a sensational but clear account of the Presidential Nominations in 1968. I found it a very insightful tale, with sadly, resonances for today. (2017) ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 23, 2017 |
Crazy. First the Radical Liberal element tried to seize control of the situation, and now the Radical Conservatives are doing the same. If we do not learn from history, we are doomed by it. ( )
  Elpaca | Oct 9, 2013 |
The conventions that this book covers took place at an exceptionally interesting time in American politics. Sometimes Mailer's prose brings to life the mood and sense of history. Often though, Mailer's prose is a big inhibition - sentences seem to trail off to nowhere and whole paragraphs are obscure in their meaning - a problem I also found in his writing on the Rumble in the Jungle in The Fight.

Mailer's self-insertion to the story is less annoying in this book though. At least it allows him to comment on the state of America at the time and the direction the country seemed to be heading in. That's good because Mailer is actually quite an outsider to the events he covers. He's constantly on the sidelines either by choice, accident, mistake or because of the powers that be. Reading MATSOC I didn't feel like I really got to know the central characters, just the milieu in which the conventions took place.

An interesting but frustrating read then. ( )
  DRFP | May 16, 2012 |
I am sure there are better books out there that more fully tell the story of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Because Norman Mailer has inserted himself in this story, it cannot help but suffer from his not being everywhere. And he is more than honest with the fact that he did not have the strength to be in some of the places he needed to be. With that in mind, this book will never be seen as the greatest description of events around that election. However, taken on its own terms (the story of two conventions which transforms into the story of the author), it is an interesting exploration of events and their effects on one person.

This book represents two separate pieces of writing – both tied to the election of 1968. “Nixon in Miami” is a relatively straightforward piece of journalism (that is, straightforward if you accept that journalism was changing in the 60’s [just like everything else] so the author is allowed to insert himself in the story.) It follows the various players for the seven days of the Republican convention in Miami. It is fascinating to realize that, not that very long ago, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were not really assured until the voting took place. And Mailer does a good job of providing the background intrigues and evaluations of the characters that led to Nixon in ’68.

The second piece – “The Siege of Chicago” – tells the story of the riot-ridden Democratic Convention. It is easy to imagine that Mailer entered that week assuming that, while things might be different, they would still be the same. Instead, he walked into a full-blown war between the Peaceniks/Yippees and Mayor Daley’s Gestapo. The individual reading for history will get some of it in this piece, but will generally be disappointed. Mailer seems to have made a significant habit of not being there for the big things. And he is quick to admit that, in some instances, he just didn’t have the desire to be there. And, when his desire finally arrives, the opportunity has passed him by. Yes, at the end of the seven days, he manages to get arrested twice and punched out once, but it is almost like he felt he needed his own bruised-badge of courage before leaving – an afterthought to validate his presence.

Because this book (and even the final piece) start out as one thing and change to another, the inconsistency weakens the book’s strengths. In addition, Mailer is very much in love with long, lingering sentences and paragraphs that, while often adding to the experience, just as often detract. However, it still stands as a good retelling of these events by “one who was there” and provides good background to the person who may be trying to figure out why those candidates were selected, how in the world did Nixon win it all, and why did anyone think it was worth cracking heads. And it reminds us that either 1) things just aren’t as bad as they used to be or 2) things are worse and nobody cares. ( )
1 vote figre | Mar 7, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Well, first of all, what a lot of memories were stirred by this book! I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, my mom was raised in Mayor Daley's backyard (so to speak), and I was 20 years old (and pretty wild) in 1968 when the events written about occurred. It was a crazy time, and scary, and what's scarier is that the more things seem to have changed, the more they have stayed the same. Only the names have changed. We are in the midst of social and economic crises ~ as we were in '68. We are in the middle of a very unpopular war ~ as we were in '68. The only difference is that the kids today don't seem to be very concerned about much of anything except having fun, looking good, and getting ahead. So different from the youth of the late '60s/early '70s. In some ways that's not so bad ~ according to Mailer, we were a romantic, highly unpractical bunch, but we sure were idealistic. We were in-your-face rebels. We were prepared to die for the cause.

As for the book itself ~ Mailer seldom wrote "just the facts, ma'am." Instead, he would take off on flights of literary ecstasy, as if he had written those bits while high on speed with a few shots of bourbon as chasers, and I found myself struggling to comprehend and often had to reread whole paragraphs to get the gist of what he was saying. His frequent references to himself as "the reporter" got a little tedious after awhile, and I had to steel myself to get past them. The bouts of self-castigation and soul-searching in which he engaged during those days are described in gory detail, too raw and brutal to be easy reading, but they have made me want to read a biography about the man.

I loved the descriptions of Chicago and its citizens. When he wrote about the riots and the police brutality, I trembled inside, as if it were happening now, all over again. The descriptions of his fellow intelligentsia of the movement and the crazy lengths to which the radicals wanted to take us (though I remember thinking it all made perfect sense back then) were hysterical. And the part where he describes his inspection of the troops and later examination of the barbed-wire covered vehicle was priceless. What they did (or attempted to do) to him for his minor defiance was pretty surrealistic. No wonder, having grown up in that milieu, I still don't like cops.

The first part about Miami and Nixon was interesting but not gut-clenching. It was in the second half, when he wrote about what happened in Chicago, that he took my breath away. Toward the end, I felt like I was on a runaway express train, a juggernaut racing toward a terrible plunge over the cliff, unable to stop myself from turning the pages.

This wasn't an easy book, but it was timely and well worth reading, if for no other reason than the historical political insights, but there is so much more here for anyone willing to make an effort. ( )
1 vote Storeetllr | Oct 9, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
Mailer unlocked his powers of evocation, and, by the time he was done, no one, not even the wrathfully witty H. L. Mencken, had ever written of political people—both hacks and powers—with such uproarious verve, with so tactile a command of surfaces and so great an interest in the national mysteries. Mailer had the richest sensibility in American prose (Gore Vidal, by contrast, seems dryly witty and ungenerous). In this report, Mailer functioned as a critic of souls... “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” is a companion volume to “Armies of the Night”—not as extensive, as grand, but in no way inferior in descriptive and rhetorical power.
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To my Father.
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They snipped the ribbon in 1915, they popped the cork, Miami Beach was born.
The Hilton heaved and staggered through a variety of attacks and breakdowns. Like an old fort, like the old fort of the Democratic Party, about to fall forever beneath the ministrations of its high shaman, its excruciated warlock, derided by the young, held in contempt by its own soldiers—the very delegates who would be loyal to Humphrey in the nomination and loyal to nothing in their heart—this spiritual fort of the Democratic Party was now housed in the literal fort of the Hilton staggering in place, its boilers working, all motors vibrating, yet seeming to come apart from the pressure on the street outside
Their bodies reflected the pull of their character. The dowager’s hump was common, and many a man had a flaccid paunch, but the collective tension was rather in the shoulders, in the girdling of the shoulders against anticipated lashings of the back, in the thrust forward of the neck, in the maintenance of the muscles of the mouth forever locked in readiness to bite the tough meat of resistance, in a posture forward from the hip since the small of the back was dependably stiff, loins and mind cut away from each other by some abyss between navel and hip.
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