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Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford

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Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford Cover

ISBN13: 9781582434537
ISBN10: 1582434530
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Admirers and detractors use the same words to describe Jessica Mitford: subversive, mischief-maker, muckraker. J.K. Rowling calls her her “most influential writer.” Those who knew her best simply called her Decca. Born into one of Britains most famous aristocratic families, she eloped with Winston Churchills nephew as a teenager. Their marriage severed ties with her privilege, a rupture exacerbated by the life she lead for seventy-eight years.

After arriving in the United States in 1939, Decca became one of the New Deals most notorious bureaucrats. For her the personal was political, especially as a civil rights activist and journalist. She coined the term frenemies, and as a member of the American Communist Party, she made several, though not among the Cold War witch hunters. When she left the Communist Party in 1958 after fifteen years, she promised to be subversive whenever the opportunity arose. True to her word, late in life she hit her stride as a writer, publishing nine books before her death in 1996.

Yoked to every important event for nearly all of the twentieth century, Decca not only was defined by the history she witnessed, but by bearing witness, helped to define that history.

Review:

"Journalist and limousine-radical Mitford (1917 — 1996) gets her due in this breezy and thoroughly researched biography. From a classically colorful English family of women--including Nancy, the novelist, as well as two others who had intimate ties to Adolf Hitler--Jessica very much went her own way socially and politically. She married a distant relative of similar leftist ideals who was better known as Winston Churchill's nephew. The couple settled in Washington, D.C., amid fellow travelers. But when her husband was tragically killed in action in WWII, it was a turning point in her life. Her second husband was an epileptic Ivy League — educated New York Jew and radical lawyer. With their growing family, the pair moved to the Bay Area, becoming involved with the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1940s, and were called as Communists to testify before HUAC. Mitford hit her stride in midlife, publishing the memoir Daughters and Rebels in 1960 and three years later The American Way of Death, winning the sobriquet 'Queen of the Muckrakers' from Time magazine. Mitford's talents for schmoozing and recruiting lefties are well chronicled by Brody (Red Star Sister), in as much an evocation of quite different times as biography. 16 pages of photos. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

HistoryBuffAlisa, December 8, 2010 (view all comments by HistoryBuffAlisa)
This book isn't just about Jessica Mitford, a force of nature in her own right. It manages to provide a portrait of an entire era in radical politics, and is especially acute on the lives and times of members of the American Communist Party from the 1930s until the 1960s. What was remarkable about Jessica Mitford, and what Leslie Brody brings to the forefront in this biography, was how she spanned the era between the Spanish Civil War and the Vietnam War. Mitford held on to her ideals, and her life provides glimpses into many of the important civil rights and political movements of the 1950s and '60s. Another great strength of this biography is Brody's careful attention to Jessica Mitford's relationships and friendships, which are not only historically significant, but also, dare I say it, inspirational.
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reader richard, November 23, 2010 (view all comments by reader richard)
The Book Report: A chronological retelling of the strange life and exciting times of America's finest 20th-century muckraker, from her aristocratic Fascist upbringing to her time in the Communist Party USA, then her years of fame and glory after writing The American Way of Death, her most lasting contribution to literature. Her heartbreaking family life is presented with as many warts as can be expected; her relationships with her equally famous sisters Nancy Mitford, Lady Diana Mosley, Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, and Unity Mitford the Nazi are discussed in some detail; her husbands and her children are woven through the story, perhaps less so than her birth family.

My Review: Flat. Lacking fizz. Champagne the next day.

It felt to me like the book was the proposal for the book and not the whole enchilada. Taking on a larger-than-life personality like Mitford is always challenging. She's not a person whose dimensions are easy to grasp! This daughter of privilege was unquestionably sincere in her rejection of the world she was born into, and she was completely consistent in making her anger and disdain at the family she left behind clear. (I relate.)

But a biographer who dedicates a mere 344pp to this Force of Nature risks reporting the facts but leaving the feelings behind. I felt that it was too short, so the book was frustrating...I want to know more about *her* and yet I can't imagine a book more thorough than this one is factually.

So what happened? Jessica took the place of Decca (her family nickname)? Mmmaybeee...but no, not entirely. What I think happened is, the balance between Decca and Jessica shifts dramatically after Mitford's first husband Esmond Romilly dies in 1942. We get more Jessica and less Decca. And it ends up not being a satisfying trade-off.

So should you read this fact-stuffed tale of one of life's hellions, a scamp and an imp from the get-go? Yes. She's interesting enough to make familiarity with her life an overall good thing. But don't come in expecting your notions (if you had any) about her to change, they won't. She'll still appeal to you or not based on the well-known and hand-crafted image of a rebel and a scalawag already known.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781582434537
Subtitle:
The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford
Author:
Brody, Leslie
Publisher:
Counterpoint
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Biography-Literary
Subject:
Biography-Women
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20101001
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Illustrations:
50 BandW photos
Pages:
400
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » Literary
Biography » Women
Computers and Internet » Networking » General
History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » 20th Century
History and Social Science » Politics » Leftist Studies
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics
Religion » Comparative Religion » General

Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford New Hardcover
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Product details 400 pages Counterpoint LLC - English 9781582434537 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Journalist and limousine-radical Mitford (1917 — 1996) gets her due in this breezy and thoroughly researched biography. From a classically colorful English family of women--including Nancy, the novelist, as well as two others who had intimate ties to Adolf Hitler--Jessica very much went her own way socially and politically. She married a distant relative of similar leftist ideals who was better known as Winston Churchill's nephew. The couple settled in Washington, D.C., amid fellow travelers. But when her husband was tragically killed in action in WWII, it was a turning point in her life. Her second husband was an epileptic Ivy League — educated New York Jew and radical lawyer. With their growing family, the pair moved to the Bay Area, becoming involved with the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1940s, and were called as Communists to testify before HUAC. Mitford hit her stride in midlife, publishing the memoir Daughters and Rebels in 1960 and three years later The American Way of Death, winning the sobriquet 'Queen of the Muckrakers' from Time magazine. Mitford's talents for schmoozing and recruiting lefties are well chronicled by Brody (Red Star Sister), in as much an evocation of quite different times as biography. 16 pages of photos. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
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