Review of Mad Bomber Melville

by Luce Guillen-Givins
In the violent shadow of the Vietnam War, Samuel Melville stood apart from his peers. Already beyond the trust ceiling of age 30 when he got involved in “the Movement,” he was remarkable in his determination and initiative. In collusion with Jane Alpert and several others, he preempted the militancy of groups like the Weather Underground with a rash of “bring the War home” bombings of centers of American imperialism throughout New York City.

Mad Bomber Melville, by Leslie James Pickering, is a concise and quick-moving account of his political life, and a refreshing break from the tradition of 60s and 70s-era biographies. Melville’s personal life was certainly fraught with abusive and self-destructive behavior- worthy of examination, but not of a nature unexpected given the society to which he was born. Yet without turning apologist, the text foregoes sensationalism in favor of emphasizing his significance as a revolutionary figure in American history. While many a book has been written on the bigger-than-life characters who studded this country’s radical scene, rare is the mention of Samuel Melville. Pickering’s book is a fact-based portrait of total commitment to revolutionary change, embodied in a flawed but entirely sincere white radical.

The book builds to the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising where Melville, then a prisoner in the upstate New York correctional facility, was part of a core group of inmates organizing against the repressive conditions of their confinement. On September 9th, rioting prisoners took hostages and seized control of the grounds. After five long days spent holding law enforcement at bay, the government unleashed a full-scale assault on the rebels. Having so briefly experienced the intense unity of the resistance he gave himself to building, Samuel Melville was among the 29 men murdered.

A celebration of the revolutionary spirit, Mad Bomber Melville informs and inspires.

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