Historical biography in the hands of publish-or-perish academics often comes out dishwater gray: the subject is logically...


THE GOOD FIGHT: The Life and Times of Ben B. Lindsey

Historical biography in the hands of publish-or-perish academics often comes out dishwater gray: the subject is logically boxed in neat chronologies, the style is competent if graceless, the research leaves no archive or association unturned, the facts are placed with care and punctiliously footnoted; but somewhere along this well-tended pathway of scholarship the central figure becomes lost in a thicket of note cards and lockstep scholarship. This is precisely what happens with Larsen's account of reformist Judge Ben Lindsey, one of the most colorful minor characters of the early 20th century Progressive period. Lindsey, a juvenile court judge in Denver for 26 years (1901-27), first gained national attention as an articulate and aggressive champion of child welfare reform and later as a controversial, tubthumping advocate of liberalized sex laws. The ""Kids' Judge"" (as he was called) believed sexual ignorance was the causal factor in broken or contentious homes which in turn were responsible for juvenile delinquency and neglect, and by the '20's his name was prominently associated with such innovative ideas as trial (or ""companionate"") marriage, use of birth control, and divorce reform. Lindsey's friends included Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, Teddy Roosevelt, et al. and, like them, he accrued powerful enemies -- in 1927, for example, the Klan mounted an especially scurrilous campaign in the judgeship election, defeating Lindsey with false allegations of child molestation, etc. Larsen (a professor at Mills College, California) has produced the most complete biography of Lindsey yet to appear; it is doctorally fair (Lindsey's faults like excessive boasting are duly recorded) but essentially sympathetic: Larsen goes so far as to suggest that Lindsey is ""one of the major figures in the history of twentieth-century American reform"" which is a trifle effusive to say the least. The largest problem, however, is that Larsen fails to bring Judge Lindsey to life. Historians concerned with the period might find this useful; otherwise the audience will be limited.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1971


Page Count: -

Publisher: Quadrangle

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1971