Must Read History Book: ‘Radical Connecticut’

"Radical Connecticut" explore's the history of Connecticut. Photo Credit: Kaily Martinez

Andy Piascik and Steve Thornton’s most recent work, ‘Radical Connecticut,’ takes readers on a journey through Connecticut’s known and unknown history.

By Kaily Martinez

Learning history is an essential aspect of our education. However, much of history that has changed the way of the future has been diminished. “Radical Connecticut,” by Andy Piascik and Steve Thornton, delves into dismissed events in history that drastically impacted Connecticut and our nation’s history. 

While most history books focus on momentous events with widely-known, prominent people, “Radical Connecticut” strives to tell stories about lesser-known everyday people and well-known figures. With 22 chapters, the 93 short stories continue to grab the reader’s attention by focusing on the important aspects of each event.

“How do you change things in society?” Thornton asked. “Organizing to change things is how you do it. The people in these books are doing it, not because somebody else has told them to – in fact, it’s usually in spite of that. But they’re doing it because they feel they don’t have any other choice.”

“Radical Connecticut.” Photo Credit: Kaily Martinez

One story, “Connecticut’s Longest Strike,” uncovered the history of 1,000 strikers against the Colt Firearms factory after they tried to disassemble their current union in 1986. Without diving into the complete details of the story, the company surrendered in 1990 after the labor court found out they were breaking too many laws. Afterward, the United Auto Workers, in a coalition that included the state government and private investors, ended up buying out the company.

“In fact, the strike itself was the longest sustained nonviolent action in Connecticut history,” Thornton wrote. While this is one example of the many stories in the book, it shows that even the less familiar stories still have an enormous impact on our world.

During an interview, Thornton, who is a West Hartford resident, said that even while growing up, he was always an activist. Prior to writing with Piascik, Thornton wrote for other publications and published a few of his own books, such as “Wicked Hartford” and “Good Trouble: A Shoeleather History.” In preparation for Radical Connecticut, Thornton said he and Piascik chose a variety of stories they had previously written or stories they wanted to write.

“One of the criteria was ‘how many people were affected by what we’re talking about?’ If it was just a story of one person it could be very valuable but maybe not as interesting. These are stories that touch a wider audience,” Thornton said. “Another thing is, I’m just speaking for myself; there are stories that I think are unexpected… There are usually twists or something that is interesting to me, and it’s something that I’ve been frequently been involved in.”

A slide from a presentation Steve Thornton presents at schools and events. Courtesy photo.

Many of the stories cover an array of topics, such as the Civil War, theaters and strikes. Yet, some chapters are shorter than others and only feature two stories. While they would have liked to include more stories regarding certain chapters, the sources were limited since most stories of this type are not handed down as widely and have become lost. However, before “Radical Connecticut,” after reading Thornton’s stories, people would come forward and tell him their own experiences in relation to the stories he had written. 

“The more I did it, the more I bumped into people who were participants in the various movements or campaigns, and that was like gold. That was wonderful to actually talk about somebody who was there,” Thornton said. 

Thornton admitted he prefers to keep himself out of the stories he has written because he wants to focus on the people and the history. But when asked what was the most profound story to him in “Radical Connecticut,” Thornton answered the four of six stories featured in “Chapter 11: Peace, not War,” regarding the Vietnam War, specifically the story “No Business as Usual: the Vietnam War.” 

Thornton said that time was formative for him because he was in his late teens to early 20s. “It was our entire nation grinding its boot on this really tiny country. At home, it was causing a huge division between the old and the young,” Thornton said. Not only that, but he realized how different it was to write about the Vietnam War compared to the other stories he had written. While writing this story, he did a lot of research and was able to correlate his thoughts and deliver a narrative unparalleled to others.

Steve Thornton, one of the authors of “Radical Connecticut,” commented how at this very moment, we are living history. Photo Credit: Kaily Martinez

Not only is the content different than other history books, but the book title stands out from others, which is exactly what Thorton and Piascik wanted. Thornton said the Latin root of the word “radical” means “from the root.” By doing so, Thornton commented that this book means “grassroots from Connecticut.”

“This kind of history shows that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, and that history is not made just by the old white guys who say that they’re ‘in charge and making history.’ It’s made by people whose names we’re never going to know,” Thornton said. “It’s courageous, so I admire it. I want to put that forward to people so that they can maybe feel some of the things that I feel.”

Even for non-history buffs, “Radical Connecticut” keeps readers well informed and delivers history in a unique way. Why not take a travel through time?

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Kaily Martinez

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