PLAIN RADICAL by Robert Jensen


Living, Loving and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully
Email this review


The story of a man who exalted personal responsibility for systemic change.

In this combination of memoir and political critique, Jensen (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog, 2013, etc.) pays homage to Jim Koplin (1933-2012), his mentor, friend, and lover. The two met in 1988, when Jensen was a University of Minnesota graduate student researching feminist responses to pornography, and Koplin, a volunteer at the Organizing Against Pornography office, agreed to be interviewed. Despite their 25-year age difference, the men felt an immediate bond, which they discovered stemmed from traumatic pasts. Koplin’s father had been violent; Jensen’s youth, which likely involved sexual abuse, was so troubled that he had developed dissociative amnesia. They both felt “not-normal,” recognizing similar quirks in each other as their friendship deepened. Although Koplin resisted being called Jensen’s “intellectual guru,” he was clearly more than an academic mentor, offering guidance through long conversations and abundant letters. Jensen admits that he was “inadequately prepared” for graduate work: naïve, not well-read, and unable to think critically about political, social, ethical, and environmental issues. On the subject of sex and gender, for example, he had been “an apologist for patriarchy” until Koplin pushed him to “think in terms of hierarchy and power” and leave his “liberal bubble” for “a more radical, and honest, analysis of myself and the world.” Portraying himself as “a pretty typical American,” Jensen believed that a “conventional narrative of U.S. benevolence” justified foreign policy, until Koplin gave him a “crash course” about U.S. relations in the Middle East. The author praises Koplin's “comprehensive and consistent radical left/feminist/anti-racist/ecological politics,” his frugal lifestyle, and his rejection of consumerism.

A heartfelt book about an inspiring model of wisdom, self-awareness, and thoughtful engagement with the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59376-618-4
Page count: 228pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


IndieHard Chance by Peter Pfeiffer
by Peter Pfeiffer
NonfictionGREAT TIDE RISING by Kathleen Dean Moore
by Kathleen Dean Moore
NonfictionEAARTH by Bill McKibben
by Bill McKibben