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Living My Life: An Autobiography of Emma…

Living My Life: An Autobiography of Emma Goldman (1931)

by Emma Goldman

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494634,405 (4.15)8
Anarchist, journalist, drama critic, advocate of birth control and free love, Emma Goldman was the most famous--and notorious--woman in the early twentieth century. This abridged version of her two-volume autobiography takes her from her birthplace in czarist Russia to the socialist enclaves of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Against a dramatic backdrop of political argument, show trials, imprisonment, and tempestuous romances, Goldman chronicles the epoch that she helped shape: the reform movements of the Progressive Era, the early years of and later disillusionment with Lenin's Bolshevik experiment, and more. Sounding a call still heard today, Living My Life is a riveting account of political ferment and ideological turbulence. First time in Penguin Classics Condensed to half the length of Goldman's original work, this edition is accessible to those interested in the activist and her extraordinary era  … (more)



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Emma Goldman was inspiring and almost superhuman. Her life contained an immeasurable amount of struggle for the liberation of humanity from capitalism and the state.

The metastory of Emma Goldman is quite sad. Having lived a large portion of her life in the United States, she adopted it as a homeland, and was promptly deported. Because Russia was in the midst of revolution, she therefore considered that her homeland. But conditions became so malformed there that she was forced to sneak out. And she went from country to country, where no one would take her. Emma Goldman couldn't ever just go home.

But she never stopped struggling. When she was arrested, she organized inside US prisons for better working conditions for the prisoners. When Russia was in revolution, she tirelessly advocated for it. When she was deported, she radicalized the boat's crew, convincing them to go AWOL and join Russia in its revolution. When the revolution turned sour and Lenin began to put former capitalists in charge again, she was there, too, struggling to defend the Kronstadt sailors, and then going across the world to condemn the Bolshevik betrayal.

Something that I had never known about Emma Goldman was her infatuation with art, specifically theater. As an orator, she spent the majority of her time speaking about modern drama and social thought in theater. She was a public intellectual as well as a radical, and a self-taught cultural critic.

The unabridged version of this book is a thousand pages long, in two volumes: one roughly covering her experiences organizing in the United States, as she moves in the anarchist movement from margin to center, and then, in the second volume, her deportation to Russia, her disillusionment there, and her wandering around the globe. If I had known better I would have read the abridged version. At first, I thought it was an outrage to abridge such an incredibly important person's life. But there were plenty of pages that slowed the narrative arc, and therefore made the book more difficult to read, and explains why it took me almost six months to finish it.

Goldman defended Leon Czolgocz, and her lifelong love Sasha Berkman's attempts on the lives of both president McKinley and the capitalist Henry Clay Frick in an intriguing way. The way she described these acts of violence (terror, even) was not that the perpetraitors were callous to human suffering and that enabled them to commit the acts. In fact, quite the contrary. They were so sensitive to the suffering of people that they couldn't stand by and let these individuals perpetuate that suffering. They took such drastic action on behalf of those that suffered because they were so hypersensitive that they couldn't bring themselves to live with the suffering of others. She refused to condemn the men whose propaganda by the deed was condemned by nearly the entire anarchist movement of the day, because of the state repression that followed the actions. She, like Malcom X, though the focus should be on the social conditions that led to these reactions.

I was disappointed that the book had no ending. Until the very last page, Goldman rattled off the themes and locations of lectures, so there was no closure. Part of the problem was that there wasn't closure in Emma Goldman's life at that point, given that she would still live to see the Spanish Revolution/Civil War and much of World War II before dying. An afterward from a friend or admirer would have closed the book nicely, though perhaps that now I think of Emma as still alive and working for anarchist revolution, and perhaps thats the way I should be thinking about her.

A passionate lover, a revolutionary, a woman without a country. Emma Goldman was an amazing woman.

The edition I have of this book is beautiful, and I would be willing to let anyone who wants to borrow it. The books is cloth-bound with embossed gold foil titles. Printed on heavy weighted paper, the type looks hand placed. There are pictures of characters about every 100 pages, an illustration table of contents, and an index in the back. Every page has a sentence summary of the page's contents, something I've never seen before. ( )
  magonistarevolt | Apr 24, 2020 |
At times overwrought, exasperating, and definitely a lot to read even in the abridged version, but how could one come out of this anything but charmed by Emma? So vibrant, so full of questioning and passionate intelligence. So full of life. Dedicated not just to her ideals and justice, but to living and realizing them in the world. She had an amazing life of her own making, with seemingly endless stories and a strong ability for telling them.

As with Marxism, there is plenty of insightful critique in Emma's anarchism and outlook. (Especially when in early Soviet Russia). It's the prescriptive part where they both lose me.

Overall it was thought provoking and inspiring. And a bit long. 3.5 stars, rounding up.
( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
On page 165, Emma Goldman describes the London center of the anarchist movement, at the home of the Rossetti family - William Michael Rossetti was the manager of Britain's pro-feudal "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood"
  chaitkin | May 25, 2017 |
Emma Goldman was an anarchist and feminist who lived at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century. She started her political career in the USA, where she was closely involved with Alexander Berkman and his assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick. After long years of agitation in the US (where she spoke about contraceptive measures or against the forced conscription for World War One, for which she was imprisoned), she was deported and sent to Russia, where she started to turn from initial support of the October revolution to criticism of the Bolsheviks. As things started to heat up from her, she left Russia as well and finally wrote her autobiography from her exile and resort in France.

Emma Goldman was an interesting personality and had a fascinating life, but she was not a great writer. For the most part that doesn’t matter that much, but towards the end, the book does start to drag a bit.

Read more on my blog: http://kalafudra.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/living-my-life-emma-goldman/ ( )
  kalafudra | Mar 18, 2012 |
Interesting feminist and labor advocate perspective of the industrial age in america. ( )
  deadbeat | Apr 14, 2011 |
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Complete text of Emma Goldman's autobiography. Please do not combine with individual volumes or with abridged editions.
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