Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident

 Public Enemy by Bill Ayers

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About the Book

In the heat of the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama’s opponents were spinning a chilling narrative that cast him as an enigmatic figure with a group of shadowy associates, including a Black Nationalist preacher, a Palestinian professor, and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” That imagined terrorist was Bill Ayers, a one-time leader of the Weather Underground. The McCain campaign spent millions of dollars demonizing Ayers specifically and castigating Senator Obama for, in Sarah Palin’s deathless phrase, “pallin’ around with terrorists.”

That wasn’t the first time Ayers found his face plastered all over the media under the label “terrorist.” After his memoir Fugitive Days, the story of his life in Students for a Democratic Society and later the Weather Underground, was published on September 10, 2001, he came under furious fire from right-wing media, which bizarrely tied him to the World Trade Center tragedy. Over the years, at the hands of the radical Right, Bill Ayers has become a household name and a public enemy. In reality, Ayers is a dedicated teacher, father, and social justice advocate, and his “shady past” is actually the story of an ardent antiwar activist.

Ayers was hosting his graduate students at his Hyde Park home during the 2008 presidential debate in which his neighbor Barack Obama was confronted about their association. Public Enemy begins there and then flashes back to tell Ayers’s story from the moment he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, emerged from years on the run and rebuilt their lives as public figures, often celebrated for their community work but much hated by the radical Right.

In the face of defamation by conservative media, and despite frequent death threats, Bill and Bernardine stay true to their core beliefs in the power of protest, dissent, and deep commitment to the welfare of others. Ayers recounts his adventures with the Tea Party, including memorable scenes of “confessing” under entertaining duress that he was indeed the author of Obama’s Dreams from My Father, of hosting a dinner party for Fox News stars, of being banned from college campuses and, in one case, from an entire country. He also takes us along to the red carpet at the Oscars, to prison vigils and the Greek islands, and ultimately back to his Hyde Park home, where his activism and commitment to a life that refuses to make a mockery of his values allow him to make the most of his post as America’s leading public enemy.

Quotes and Reviews

“[A] witty and spirited follow-up to Fugitive Days . . . Among the book’s many edifying elements, including insight into the inner life and deep humanity of a man portrayed as a ‘cartoon character,’ is the author’s conversational style and whimsical sense of humor. . . . Through humor and self-reflection, the book offers a complex portrait of Ayers, including his experiences as an early education specialist, professor, husband (to former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn), father of three, author, and activist. . . . Often times riotously funny, yet also plainspoken and serious, this is a memoir of impressive range.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This compelling sequel to Ayers’ Fugitive Days describes the author’s chaotic life after he and his wife, Bernadette Dohrn, became the topic and target of conversation during Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency.… Demonized and blacklisted, Ayers maintains not only his sanity but also his humor.… A wonderful homage to free speech.” —Booklist, starred review

“The legendary Bill Ayers is at his spellbinding best in Public Enemy—a brilliant, spirited document of a revolutionary life in our not-so-revolutionary age. One of the most compelling, insightful memoirs of the year.” —Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“Bill Ayers is a master teacher, a master storyteller, and a clarion-clear voice of conscience and commitment. Here he is, standing calmly at the center of the never-ending maelstrom, a public enemy trying to make meaning and change and sense of it all.” —Adam Mansbach, author of Rage Is Back

“Bill Ayers writes eloquently of the profound challenges, the joys, and the toll of embracing a deep, lifelong commitment to social change. He has confronted power for more than half a century: in the civil rights movement, against the Vietnam War, living underground for over a decade, and during his long career as a respected educator. This deeply personal memoir spans the gap from the ’60s to the present day, framing the current so-called war on terror in a critical, urgent light.” —Amy Goodman, author of The Exception to the Rulers

“An inspiring, ripping read. Apart from being a committed activist, engaging thinker, and brilliant parent, Bill Ayers is a great storyteller.” —Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Lazarus Project

“With incisive humor, Bill Ayers’s captivating memoir reveals that behind the fearsome ‘public enemy’ lies a deeply dedicated parent, compassionate teacher, and principled revolutionary activist, representing this country’s best hopes for a democratic future.” —Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class

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