I decided to check out some of Norman Mailer’s work after he died earlier this year. I read The Executioner’s Song when it first came out in paper back and remember enjoying it but I was still in middle school then, a precocious reader true, so what did I know.
Paperbackswap.com did not have The Armies of the Night so I went with Miami and the Siege of Chicago.
If you don’t know much about the conventions of 1968 Mailer’s coverage makes for interesting reading. However, I’m not really sure you’ll know that much about the conventions when you’re done with the book. The main conceit of the book is that he places himself in the story as “The reporter”. If you find his account of own personal reaction to the events of 1968 interesting, as I did much of the time, then you’ll probably enjoy the book. I did find “the reporter” getting in the way a little too often. In the Chicago section he spends a great deal of time worrying about whether or not he should join the demonstrations going on in the parks and streets of Chicago. In my opinion, his decision not to join until the very end was basically a cowardly one, but whatever, join or abstain but get on with the story!!
The best part of the book is the account of the riots inside and outside of the Chicago convention. This section contains some of the most gripping narrative you’ll find anywhere. I found it very difficult to put down, even when the paragraphs ran on for pages. The events of the convention still shocked this reader almost 40 years later. One begins to understand just how frightening a time 1968 really was. Judging from this book Chicago Mayor Daley deserves a special place in the pantheon of political villains for the way he handled the situation, and the mess the Democratic party is still in makes much more sense. It’s clear from Mailer’s book that the Democrats were throwing away the national election for years to come. My copy of the book was from 1968 so it has no afterward from the author, but I’d be very interested in reading what he had to say several decades later.
In the end, I’m giving Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer three and a half out of five stars. The Chicago section, the part without so much of “the reporter” at least, rescues the book from outright three star status. History buffs, political junkies and lovers of literary experimentation will find lots to enjoy in Miami and the Siege of Chicago.
I first ran this book in 2007 on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. I’m surprised to find that I only gave in 3.5 stars. In the years since writing this review my memory of the book has changed. No I remember really loving the book. I never did pursue more of Mr. Mailer’s writing, but I still intend to, his non-fiction at least. I’ve never read any of his fiction and have no desire to. I remember liking this book and thinking The Executioner’s Song was terrific, but I was only 13 when I read it. Gerald Ford was president. Things were different then.