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.
... the remarkable, timely capstone to [Schulman's] decades-long labor of documenting the improbable miracle that was and is ACT UP ... Without polemic or resentment, the book is explicit in its corrective intent ... Having done the immense labor of collecting these testimonies, Schulman wants to make sure you hear them in their full and sometimes contradictory complexity, and to understand why some of the names are more familiar to you than others ... The fact that Let the Record Show only scratches the surface is not a critique but a sad acknowledgment of historiography’s realities ... This isn’t the only book on ACT UP, or the definitive book on ACT UP. It’s Sarah Schulman’s book on ACT UP, a powerful document of a harrowing and enduring tragedy, and of the relentless determination to act up, fight back, and fight AIDS.