C.L.R. JAMES by Kent Worcester


A Political Biography
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 Well-crafted biography of a man once characterized as ``the sharpest and most interesting mind that the British Caribbean has produced in three centuries of learning.'' Although the Trinidadian writer and activist Cyril Lionel Robert James (190189) was at the center of many political and literary movements in his time, he is little known today. ``By the 1960s,'' Worcester observes, ``he was an elder radical statesperson on several continents, famous for his writing and historical impact. Yet for many years he worked in obscurity, adopting pseudonyms and struggling . . . to pay the rent.'' Worcester's biography should do much to bring James his proper due. The author, a program director for the Social Science Research Council, is well versed in 20th-century political history, in which he situates James as an independent revolutionary socialist; he is also conversant with James's many other interests, among them literature (James's 1935 novel Minty Alley influenced, among others, fellow Trinidadian V.S. Naipaul), drama (Paul Robeson staged his play Toussaint L'Ouverture in 1936), and American popular culture (James was devoted to film noir, jazz, and hardboiled detective stories). It is in politics, however, as a self-taught follower of Marx and Trotsky, that James may have had his most lasting influence, largely because of his groundbreaking work in the Pan-African movement; ``the road to West Indian national identity,'' James argued, ``lay through Africa,'' and his book The Black Jacobins remains a touchstone of late Marxist thought. The many important figures who appear in Worcester's pages, among them James Baldwin, Leonard Woolf, Ralph Ellison, Irving Howe, Meyer Schapiro, Maya Angelou, Mighty Sparrow, and Arthur Ashe, suggest the range of his contributions. C.L.R. James emerges from this engaging book as a man who lived his life fully and whose work is worthy of further study, and Worcester has done much to rescue his subject from oblivion.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-7914-2751-X
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995