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Curtis Austin has put together a history of the Black Panther Party (BPP) from the mid 60's through to the early 70's. This was they heyday of the party, although it did continue along until the 80's and it's influence is still felt. It covers both the bad (violence etc) and the good (breakfast for school kids and other community outreach) that the party undertook.
If we were scoring this based solely on research, this book would get top marks. But once you add in the writing and the structure the score drops significantly. It's listless in places, with no real drive to the book, and is also all over the place in terms of content structure. Austin has researched well, he just hasn't been able to make a compelling read out of it.
The main thing that stands out is that there lacks a general 'thesis' of the book - the introduction (for what there is of one) should give an overview of the book, where it is going and what we can expect to learn from it. This book doesn't really provide that. It's lacks context for the rest of the content. If there was a main theme to the book it's probably more around what the police were doing against the BPP and the persecution by groups like the FBI, rather than actually focusing on the BPP and who they were.
An example of how the poor structure hurts the book is the inclusion of a paragraph more than halfway through, explaining that comments and interviews with BPP members are not trustworthy due to existing fears of prosecution and retribution. Something like this should be included up front, not buried in the middle of the book, as it provides a significant context for a lot of what is to follow.
The flow is also strange. While it is generally chronological there are sections slipped into the middle a chapters that just don't make sense. In the middle of chapters talking about (yet along) raid by police/FBI it delves into the daily life of a member and what they did - before returning to the police raids. There is not reasons for this excursion, it just is there. And it doesn't happen once, it happens many times. All this just worked against the book, breaking the narrative flow and continually causing problems with engagement.
The BPP is an interesting topic, and I learned a huge amount from this book. But it was a bit of a slog to get through it all.
Gary Roelofs does well with what he is given. He was easy enough to listening to and kept me engaged. He's clear and well paced. I would be interested in hearing his work on a book that flows better.
Any additional comments?
White, female, Generation X, born and raised in Northern Ontario (Canada) - that's me. There were two black teenagers in my high school in the 80s, and both of them were very popular with their classmates. In other words, I have absolutely zero direct experience with the societal issues that formed the context of this book. I'm an outsider looking in, not able to fully appreciate the institutional and cultural resistance to equality that was so prevalent in different parts of the United States during that period, or how violent protests were believed by members of the black community to be one of the few options available to them.
Understanding the personal conflicts within the BPP, the evolution of the BPP over time, the role of women in the organization, and the seemingly contradictory activities of providing community services (such as breakfast programs) yet also aggressively engaging in violent activities -- these are all highly subjective topics and I don't think I'll be ready to express an informed opinion until I've explored several more accounts and perspectives. This is the first book about the Black Panther Party that I've read/listened to, and it's really been an education for me, learning about the events, the context, the ideas, and individual people. I recommend this book to anyone who seeks to learn more about the Black Panther Party and this period of American history - make it part of a broader collection of reading on this topic.
I provided this personal opinion in exchange for a complimentary copy of the audiobook from the author, narrator, or publisher.