Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is an exploration and reassessment of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements and ultimate fracture.
... a masterpiece tome: part sociology, part oral history, part memoir, part call to arms ... The public face of ACT UP was often white and male ... But the organization itself was (if unevenly) devoted to medical access for all demographics...and this focus owed much to the work of activists from those demographics whose stories Schulman excels in highlighting ... Schulman has critical words for narratives...that center on a straight savior narrative, that tell only the story of white gay men, or that imply activism was the work of a few rather than of the collective. A stickler could argue that to zero in on ACT UP New York is to reinforce another kind of generalization: that New York, along with maybe San Francisco, was where AIDS happened, and where the response happened—to the exclusion of activism in other cities, on college campuses and abroad. To be clear, this is not a flaw in Schulman’s book itself, which could only achieve such depth by narrowing its focus to one specific organization. She also makes known the impact of those who brought ACT UP outside the city ... Here is a primer, a compendium of what one group learned and struggled with and accomplished. Here is a book to start a mighty shelf.
The effect is rather like standing in the middle of that large room, where anyone could speak up and share an idea. Everyone is talking; small stories branch off, coalesce pages later. Speakers shade in one another’s stories, offer another angle, disagree passionately. You turn a page, and the same people have their arms linked together at a protest. Shadows start to fall; in squares of gray text, deaths are marked, moments for remembrance. So many people leave the room ... I understand but can’t quite accept that this book is about 700 pages long — not when I tore through it in a day; still now, while fact-checking this review, I can scarcely skim it without being swallowed back into the testimonies. It’s not just the cumulative power of the voices gathered here, but the curious slant of the story itself ... This is a book about the past, written in the fury of the present — in the midst of another epidemic — but its gaze is fixed on the future. Let the Record Show doesn’t seek to memorialize history but to ransack it, to seize what we might need. The dedication — 'to us' — feels like an invitation: What are you doing with your Monday nights? ... This is not reverent, definitive history. This is a tactician’s bible ... [Schulman] writes nonfiction as an artist, she insists, not as a historian or academic. She does not measure her success by proof of her arguments but by their usefulness, plenitude and provocation.
... outstanding ... In writing Let the Record Show, published earlier this year, Schulman has orchestrated a people’s history of ACT UP New York. Her voice and those of a chorus of activists cohere in the book, which draws both on her experience as a veteran of the political-action group and from lengthy interviews she conducted with nearly 200 other members. The result is an expansive portrait of the people, principles, and campaigns that made ACT UP the most formidable political organization to emerge from the AIDS crisis ... The book is a significant departure both from the popular perception of ACT UP as an exclusively white, gay, male organization, and from other well-known representations of the group ... Schulman writes as a witness to and a survivor of a catastrophe, clear-eyed and committed to remembering the dead ... serves as both history and handbook of how a small coalition can achieve fundamental political change ... not an easy read, given that it tells a story of incalculable suffering and loss; and yet it’s an invigorating work, for it also documents uncommon courage and defiance. Schulman has written a necessary book that expands our vision of AIDS activism and demands us to remember the living and the dead who made ACT UP an indispensable political and cultural force.