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The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biographyby Miriam Pawel
Synopses & Reviews
Cesar Chavez founded a labor union, launched a movement, and inspired a generation. He rose from migrant worker to national icon, becoming one of the great charismatic leaders of the 20th century. Two decades after his death, Chavez remains the most significant Latino leader in US history. Yet his life story has been told only in hagiography — until now.
In the first comprehensive biography of Chavez, Miriam Pawel offers a searching yet empathetic portrayal. Chavez emerges here as a visionary figure with tragic flaws; a brilliant strategist who sometimes stumbled; and a canny, streetwise organizer whose pragmatism was often at odds with his elusive, soaring dreams. He was an experimental thinker with eclectic passions — an avid, self-educated historian and a disciple of Gandhian non-violent protest. Drawing on thousands of documents and scores of interviews, this superbly written life deepens our understanding of one of Chavez's most salient qualities: his profound humanity.
Pawel traces Chavez's remarkable career as he conceived strategies that empowered the poor and vanquished California's powerful agriculture industry, and his later shift from inspirational leadership to a cult of personality, with tragic consequences for the union he had built. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez reveals how this most unlikely American hero ignited one of the great social movements of our time.
"In her second book on Chavez, Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Pawel (The Union of Their Dreams) turns away from the United Farm Workers organization to offer a comprehensive portrait of its founder, a 'poor, brown, and homeless' child whose career as a 'eccentrically charismatic' community organizer saw him join his idol Gandhi in the pantheon of celebrated nonviolent activists. Chavez, often remembered in murals as a solitary hunger striker, receives greater contextualization by examining his long and complex relationships with his associates, many of whom were interviewed for this work. Some relationships are particularly revealing, as when his own lifelong plea that his followers 'refrain from violence' is contradicted by a tolerance of violent activism of his 'troublemaker cousin.' Chavez comes across as a shrewd leader with a 'willingness to endure' hardship for la causa, yet was also demanding and increasingly authoritarian and suspicious of his colleagues later in his career. Particularly intriguing is Chavez's little memorialized relationship with the Synanon cult group, from whom he zealously appropriated 'authoritarian tactics' of group therapy for his own commune, La Paz, throughout the 1970s. Pawel's clear, accessible prose befits a subject famous for his plain rhetoric, ensuring a broad readership can appreciate this valuable exploration of Chavez's unique legacy. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins/Loomis Agency. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Pawel, rigorous and captivating, follows her history of Cesar Chavez's crusade to protect farm workers' rights, The Union of Their Dreams, with a zestful, dramatic, and redefining biography of the innovative, daring, and persevering activist….Pawel thoroughly chronicles every aspect of Chavez's battles against California's politically dominant produce growers, from audacious strikes to the now legendary national grape boycott to his penitential fasts. As she insightfully dissects Chavez's troubled relationships with his inner circle and each phase in the rise and fall of his increasingly complex and mismanaged organization, Pawel portrays a visionary civil rights leader whose fame and near-beatification engendered tragic misuses of power, but who improved countless lives and raised global consciousness. Chavez's epic story, told so astutely and passionately by Pawel, is essential to understanding today's struggles for justice and equality." Booklist, starred review
"A warts-and-all biography of an important figure." Kirkus Reviews
"Pawel paints a complex portrait of Chavez with all his strengths and weaknesses....The author's insightful, painstakingly researched, and thoughtful work makes Chavez all the more dimensional and nuanced by recognizing his failings as well as his successes. This fully rounded portrait could well be the definitive biography of this all too human figure." Library Journal, starred review
“Pawel has given us an inspiring book. It introduces us to a formidable leader who drew America's most disadvantaged workers into a powerful movement. And yet every reader will identify with Cesar Chavez's human foibles; every discouraged political visionary will be moved by his story.” Alice Kessler-Harris, author of A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
“Miriam Pawel's new biography The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, massively researched and expertly written, is a welcome expansion and enrichment of her earlier study The Union of Their Dreams. Together they represent the definitive story of this charismatic farm worker and controversial visionary leader whose courage and near-genius as an organizer invigorated the stormy history of American labor.” Peter Matthiessen, author of Shadow Country and Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution
Cesar Chavez led what arguably became the last great social movement in America, transforming the lives of thousands who joined his crusade. This biography by a Pulitzer Prize winner paints an authoritative portrait of the national icon.
About the Author
Miriam Pawel is the author of The Union of Their Dreams, widely acclaimed as the most nuanced history of Cesar Chavez's movement. She is a Pulitzer-winning editor who spent twenty-five years working for Newsday and the Los Angeles Times. She was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and lives in Southern California.
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