Seth Rosenfeld, a former reporter for the "San Francisco Chronicle," spent three decades documenting the FBI's illegal attempts to spy on and undermine student radicals at Berkeley in the 1960s. The result of the research is the new book "Subversives," which Sol Stern reviewed Saturday in the "Wall Street Journal".
A student and activist at Berkeley in that era, Stern notes that among the most surprising of Rosenfeld's discoveries is the extent to which J. Edgar Hoover and the students he was spying on shared the conviction that Berkeley was the cradle of a second American revolution.
Rosenfeld argues that the time and place did spawn a revolution of sorts, just not the one that Hoover or the students expected. "Subversives" posits that the FBI's activities in Berkeley actually helped pave Ronald Reagan's way to the White House.
Stern also thinks the tale has an unfortunate ending. Not surprisingly for a writer who was once editor of "Ramparts" and is now reviewing books for the "Wall Street Journal," Stern concludes his piece with this: "Left untold is the story of how a once idealistic student movement crossed the line to anti-democratic ideologies and undermined the possibility of a decent left in America."
The book outs Richard Aoki as an FBI informant when he was a member of the Black Panthers.
No matter how one thinks the story ends, "Subversives," which comes out Tuesday, starts like a noir thriller:
On the night of November 9, 1945, two FBI agents huddled in a sedan on a dark street in the hills above the green slopes, quiet stone lecture halls, and towering Campanile of the University of California’s Berkeley campus.
As fog blew through the eucalyptus trees along Grizzly Peak, obscuring the lights of San Francisco across the bay, the agents tried to stay alert and peered down the road at the front door of a bungalow at 790 Keeler Avenue. They were tailing a suspected Soviet spy named George Eltenton, who was visiting the chemist who lived there. Herve Voge was a former graduate student of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Berkeley physicist already known as the father of the atomic bomb.
Keep reading the full excerpt from chapter one.