The Lives of Agnes Smedley

Overview

Was she a selfless political activist? A feminist heroine? A gifted writer who rose from poverty to become a leading journalist and author of the cult classic Daughter of Earth? A spy for the Soviet Union? Or all of these things?
Drawing on fifteen years of intensive research and unprecedented access to previously unpublished documents, this vibrant book brings to life one of the twentieth century's most fascinating women. Ruth Price traces Agnes Smedley's unlikely trajectory ...

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Overview

Was she a selfless political activist? A feminist heroine? A gifted writer who rose from poverty to become a leading journalist and author of the cult classic Daughter of Earth? A spy for the Soviet Union? Or all of these things?
Drawing on fifteen years of intensive research and unprecedented access to previously unpublished documents, this vibrant book brings to life one of the twentieth century's most fascinating women. Ruth Price traces Agnes Smedley's unlikely trajectory from a small Missouri town to the coal country of Colorado; to Berkeley and Greenwich Village; to Berlin, Moscow, and China. Fueled by a fury at injustice, Smedley threw herself headlong into the crucial issues of the time, from Indian independence to birth control, women's rights, and the revolution in China. Her friends included such figures as Margaret Sanger, Langston Hughes, Emma Goldman, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mao Zedong, and many others. Perhaps most important, Price uncovers an astonishing truth: Smedley, long thought to be the unfair target of a Cold War smear campaign, was indeed guilty of the espionage charges leveled against her by General Douglas MacArthur and others. Smedley worked to foment armed revolution in India and gathered intelligence for the Soviet Union, seeing it as a bulwark against fascism. Price argues that Smedley acted out of a passionate idealism and that she exhibited a courage and compassion worthy of a renewed, if more complicated, admiration today.
Epic in scope, painstakingly researched, and unflinchingly honest, The Lives of Agnes Smedley offers a stunning reappraisal of one of America's most controversial Leftists and a new look at the troubled historical terrain of the first half of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It is owing to the strength and brilliance of Price's rivetingly well-written book that one can disagree with her conclusion and her desire to depict Smedley as a heroine, and still recommend her work as a moving and genuinely dramatic biographical portrait."—National Review

"An exceptionally rich and exhaustively researched biography of one of the cold war's most enigmatic characters.... Price's painstaking portrait of this tenacious iconoclast is a revelatory wonder, confirming what intense government investigations could not, but successfully depicting Smedley's motivations as sincere rather than sinister."—Booklist

"Price has clearly devoted a significant amount of time and effort to researching Agnes Smedley, and her careful examination pays off in this intimate yet inclusive biography."—Library Journal

"Masterful, beautifully written.... Price paints a vibrant portrait not only of her subject but of the many worlds in which she was a major player. Price captures neatly and with great nuance the complicated, often contradictory impulses and activities of these political movements. But at the heart of the book is her clear-eyed portrait of the very complicated Smedley, who acted out of humane motives but not always for the best causes."—Publishers Weekly

"A deeply sympathetic and yet starkly revealing portrait of one of our best known feminist heroines. It beautifully evokes the tensions of a radical life, without exonerating her for the questionable choices she made. Best of all, this carefully researched biography reads like a novel. You wont be able to put it down."—Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America

"Based on astonishingly thorough research in newly available Chinese, Russian, British, and American archives.... Her account of how a poorly educated woman from a dysfunctional Midwestern family became a figure in the public and clandestine drama of twentieth-century radical politics is a fascinating story."—Weekly Standard

Library Journal
Price has clearly devoted a significant amount of time and effort to researching Agnes Smedley, and her careful examination pays off in this intimate yet inclusive biography. When Smedley died during the Cold War in 1950, her life's work of Socialist activism was intertwined with accusations of espionage, and she has been puzzling even her supporters ever since. Born in the United States, she found a home wherever there was political unrest, social inequality, or underdogs to be championed. Consequently, the 1920s-40s found her in Germany, China, and the Soviet Union, mixing with revolutionaries and intellectuals. Her talent as a writer and her charismatic personality gave her access to the dramatic world of expatriate intrigue, and her private life was no less tumultuous. Price takes great care in reconstructing the historical and individual time lines and uses extensive personal papers to re-create Smedley's unsettled life story. Especially of note are revelations confirming her intelligence activities for the Soviet Union. This scholarly biography is accessible to those unfamiliar with Smedley. Recommended for academic libraries.-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Service Inst., Champaign Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195141894
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2005
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Price taught English for several years at CUNY, has worked for the New York City and state governments, and was press secretary for Bella Abzug. She has published several works of genre fiction. The Lives of Agnes Smedley, her first nonfiction book, is the result of more than 15 years of work.

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