A brief encapsulation of the fury and disillusionment that characterized the career of this significant American activist.



Biography of an important early-20th-century labor and human rights activist known as the East Side Joan of Arc, now sadly neglected. This is the latest in the Lives of American Women series.

A radical agitator and later devoted member of the U.S. Communist Party, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) was notorious in her day, stretching from 1906, when she first began speaking publicly against the capitalist exploitation of the working class at age 16, until her death in the Soviet Union at age 74. Vapnek (History/St. John’s Univ.; Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920, 2009, etc.) sketches Flynn’s radical activity within the context of ongoing labor struggles and the rise and fall of sympathy for the socialist cause in the first half of the century. Indeed, Flynn had gotten arrested and imprisoned numerous times in her career. Her longest incarceration occurred during the fraught McCarthy era of the early 1950s, when she served more than two years at West Virginia’s Alderson Female Penitentiary for “conspiracy” as a CP leader. Flynn’s Irish immigrant parents fostered her early free-thinking radicalism; members of the Knights of Labor, they moved from New England to the Bronx to find work, lived among the struggling poor and were compelled by the revolutionary message of socialism. From her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” Flynn gained the notice of leaders like anarchist Emma Goldman and Bill Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World. Becoming a first-rate Wobbly “jawsmith,” Flynn traveled widely for the IWW, dropped out of high school, got married and had a child, whom she deposited with her family in the Bronx while she pursued her trailblazing work for the right of free speech and the strikers. Flynn denounced the violence that beset the struggle and did not work for women’s suffrage, although she believed fiercely in women’s equality, free love and birth control.

A brief encapsulation of the fury and disillusionment that characterized the career of this significant American activist.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8133-4809-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Westview/Perseus

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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