Book Review: "The Secret Wars of Judi Bari…" by Kate Coleman

I heard an interview on Pacifica Radio recently with the author of this book, and various comments by call-in guests to the show. It piqued my interest, and within days I happened to see the book on the shelf at the local public library, so I checked it out to see for myself what this book was all about. I am glad that I did not pay any money for this book, and I would never recommend that anyone buy it.

This book is a hatchet job on Judi Bari. It was apparently intended to shift focus from the enormous good Judi did in the world, and to focus on her flaws, personality conflicts with others, and other relatively inconsequential matters.

Judi Bari was certainly a complex personality. She was extremely gifted in certain ways, and extremely strong-willed. She cared deeply about others, about the environment, about social and environmental justice, about her children, and her friends. But the qualities that made Judi stand out also brought her into conflict with others on a regular basis. Judi did not suffer fools gladly. She knew this was a problem, but her complex nature made it hard for her to control certain aspects of her behavior. She lived a difficult life in many ways, and had to do what she could to survive, to make money, to accomplish things. In some ways, her experience was similar to a female character in the television movie "Lonesome Dove" named Laurie, who was being discussed by the characters played by Robert Duvall and by Angelica Huston. Captain McRae, played by Duvall, mentioned to Huston that Laurie had a background as a prostitute, and he worded it by saying, "She did what she had to, but don’t hold it against her." Huston’s character agreed that it would be wrong to look down on a woman who did what she needed to survive.

Judi Bari was far from perfect. But this book dwells endlessly and intensely on weaknesses, flaws, weak moments, controversy, and difficulty and completely de-emphasized what made Judi Bari so admired and so effective and so precious to so many. And in so doing, Kate Coleman reveals herself to be willing to obfuscate public attention from those social and environmental issues that Judi Bari worked for so hard and at such great personal cost.

It must have been easy to find fault with a strong personality like Judi Bari. Any great person, and any strong woman will find herself in the crosshairs of antagonists of either sex, and especially of women with grudges and jealousies.

There really is nothing of value in this book. It is a hit piece. It does not do justice to the subject of the book. It does not even bother to reproduce documentation that would have made the book more interesting; such as handwritten notes of interest or photos of the forests Judi was trying to save. This book is a personal attack on a very special woman, who suffered greatly in an attempt to do good in a life without privilege.

This is a book we could do without. I could not help reading it after hearing the discussion on the radio, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this book as reading for anyone whatsoever. It is fit for the garbage pail only.

It is also important to take note of the publisher of this book, Encounter Books. This is a publisher which has published favorable biographies of Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly, which publishing diatribes against Noam Chomsky and Hillary Clinton. This is a publisher, which promotes a radical right wing agenda, which praises the invasion of Iraq and attacks Harvard Law School. No book published by Encounter Books on any progressive person or environmentalist could be expected to be objective or even honest. This book is typical of books published by this publisher of the Radical Right, and no friend of Judi Bari or of any progressive movement would recognize a truthful treatment of the subject matter.