I always find it interesting to read contemporaneous accounts of pivotal historical events. What the reader loses in perspective and analysis is gained in the sense of intimacy that books written in the immediate aftermath provide. That is certainly the case with this book, co-written by Joe Eszterhas and Michael D. Roberts, who were reporters at the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time of the Kent State shootings. Both reporters happened to be on campus on May 4, 1970, doing research into the ongoing unrest on campus when the shootings happened.
Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State was published just six months after the shootings, and it shows. The attempts to figure out exactly what happened in the days and moments immediately preceding the incident were just beginning, and this book does not have any definitive answers about why or how the National Guard opened fire on unarmed student protesters. It does offer a tantalizing glimpse into how a year or more of student unrest on the Kent State campus, coupled with administration and law enforcement over-reactions to that unrest and the general public’s alarm over the ongoing war in Vietnam and the “hippies” who seemed to sprout overnight on college campuses across the country, contributed to the feelings of tension on the fateful day. Roberts and Eszterhas do not shrink from reporting misbehavior by students, but it is clear that their sympathies lie with the younger generation — not surprising considering they were both in their mid-20s at the time.
Overall, this is a worthy read for anyone interested in learning more about Kent State. It is not the definitive history, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.