'People must not do things for fun,' joked A.P. Herbert. 'We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any Act of Parliament.' From its grey, drizzly cover to its century-long plod of standard-length excerpts, Brian MacArthur's anthology leaves you in no doubt: there's precious little fun to be had protesting. There's no skittish comedy or wry subversion here: The Penguin Book of 20th-Century Protest takes a serious approach: heavy subjects, heavily protested.
MacArthur's gravitas has advantages. The book is thorough on race equality, poverty and war, and the selection provides a sober roll-call: Ida B. Wells, Aneurin Bevan, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Its portrayal of the first half of the century has solidity; you are in safe, if stubby hands. There are also some poignant contributions: the broken dreams of Communism reported by former believers; Rabbi Stephen Wise addressing an anti-Nazi rally; John Galsworthy's protest about planes being used for war - 'For the love of the sun, and stars and the blue sky, that have given us all our aspirations since the beginning of time, let us leave the air to innocence!'
LRB 10 June 1999 | PDF Download