A revealing celebration of activists in the glory days of a movement for change.



The inside story of the first successful attempt to unionize farmworkers in the United States.

In the early 1960s, workers in America’s vineyards and lettuce fields lacked basic protections and rights, writes former Newsday and Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Pawel. Earning about $2,500 per year, they worked without drinking water or bathrooms, were often cheated out of wages and lacked unemployment and health insurance. In this extensively researched history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the author focuses on a handful of men and women who joined la causa of the charismatic César Chávez (1927–1993), taking part in strikes and boycotts to win bargaining agreements. Pawel deftly weaves their stories into a narrative of three turbulent decades of protest against California growers and the U.S. supermarket chains that sold their produce. The principals include teenage farmworker Eliseo Medina, who joined the nascent union movement in 1965 and eventually became a leader; Chris Hartmire, a former East Harlem youth minister who acted as a propagandist in what he deemed to be a moral crusade for the poor; and Ellen Eggers, a naïve young college graduate from Indiana, who went from “ignorance to outrage” in her work as a boycott coordinator. These deeply engaged workers and middle-class youths were among thousands who received $5 per week plus room and board as volunteer foot soldiers in a crusade that convinced 17 million Americans to stop eating grapes. Recounting strategizing sessions, dealmaking and internal squabbles, Pawel shows how the movement grew and won legitimacy as a union. The iconic Chávez is seen as a micromanager whose fasts and fervor galvanized others, but who could not tolerate internal dissent and failed ultimately to build a strong union. By 2005, the UFW had no contracts in the grape vineyards or the lettuce fields, but had “mastered the art of cashing in on Latino political power.” Meanwhile, a new generation of farmworkers toiled at minimum wage.

A revealing celebration of activists in the glory days of a movement for change.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-460-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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