THE DAMNDEST RADICAL: The Life and World of Ben Reitman, Chicago's Celebrated Social Reformer, Hobo King, and Whorehouse Physician by Roger A. Bruns

THE DAMNDEST RADICAL: The Life and World of Ben Reitman, Chicago's Celebrated Social Reformer, Hobo King, and Whorehouse Physician

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An entertaining, scholarly biography of an intriguing character. Reitman (1879-1942) may not have been Chicago's most angelic advocate of social change (he was an irrepressible philanderer), but his flamboyant, energetic, lifelong crusade on behalf of the American hobo surely makes him one of that city's most colorful and memorable radicals. A victim of ""the wanderlust"" himself, this physician and self-proclaimed Hobo King founded Chicago's much-debated Hobo College, dedicated to educating and defending ""prostitutes, dope fiends, bohemians, con men, thieves. . .battered stevedores, skinners, ice harvesters, gandy dancers, and other vagabonds."" His anti-establishment tendencies further led him into a tempestuous 10-year affair with anarchist Emma Goldman, for whose sake he was once tarred and feathered by outraged bankers and real-estate magnates in San Diego. Always ready to take to the soapbox on the slighest provocation, he came to symbolize the social outcast prophet. Bruns (Knights of the Road) captures the lives of Reitman and his unshaven associates with an infectious gusto and humor. The book is particularly delightful for its series of lists or litanies of the different types of things Reitman loved, whether ""midnight feasts of turkey, veal, ham. cheese and expensive wines"" or the human fare of ""atheists, cubists, poets, free-thinkers, free-lovers, women with bobbed hair."" Such pertinent tidbits as the difference between a hobo, a tramp and a bum are discussed at length, and a glossary of hobo terms provides a further window onto the language of Reitman's world. A joyous portrait of a man and his milieu, of interest to all armchair vagabonds.

Pub Date: Dec. 14th, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press