ABOUT THIS BOOK
In 1889 two Russian immigrants, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, met in a coffee shop on the Lower East Side. Over the next fifty years Emma and Sasha would be fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers an unprecedented glimpse into their intertwined lives, the lasting influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice.
Berkman shocked the country in 1892 with "the first terrorist act in America," the failed assassination of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick for his crimes against workers. Passionate and pitiless, gloomy yet gentle, Berkman remained Goldman's closest confidant though the two were often separated-by his fourteen-year imprisonment and by Emma's growing fame as the champion of a multitude of causes, from sexual liberation to freedom of speech. The blazing sun to Sasha's morose moon, Emma became known as "the most dangerous woman in America." Through an attempted prison breakout, multiple bombing plots, and a dramatic deportation from America, these two unrelenting activists insisted on the improbable ideal of a socially just, self-governing utopia, a vision that has shaped movements across the past century, most recently Occupy Wall Street.
Sasha and Emma is the culminating work of acclaimed historian of anarchism Paul Avrich. Before his death, Avrich asked his daughter to complete his magnum opus. The resulting collaboration, epic in scope, intimate in detail, examines the possibilities and perils of political faith and protest, through a pair who both terrified and dazzled the world.
[A] smoldering dual biography.
-- Sam Roberts New York Times
An account, at once densely detailed and lively, that traces the pair from their births in what is now Lithuania to their deaths in exile in the shadow of World War II. With generous contemporary accounts and Paul Avrich’s interviews with anarchists and their children, as well as Berkman’s and Goldman’s extensive writings, the book draws readers into the lives of its characters… For a modern reader, Sasha and Emma contains many surprises… Sasha and Emma is an enormously rich book, offering an absorbing portrait of the world of anarchists in turn-of-the-century America and of the loving yet competitive partnership at its center.
-- Elsa Dixler New York Times Book Review
Riveting… Sasha and Emma joins a number of other recent dual biographies, including those on Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Leo and Sophia Tolstoy, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is compelling to read about one life as counterpoint, irritant and inspiration to another, and to trace the meanderings of love and friendship over a lifetime. This dialogic form—understanding one life in terms of another—offers a robust and vibrant way to read about the lives of others. Along the way, two stories become one… The story of Berkman and Goldman cries out to be a screenplay. The narrative is dramatic… This book’s minute-by-minute account of Berkman’s decision to assassinate [Henry Clay] Frick is pure cinema.
-- Robin Feuer Miller Times Higher Education
Emma Goldman would forever remember the November night in 1889 when she first met fellow anarchist Alexander ‘Sasha’ Berkman: ‘Deep love for him welled up in my heart,’ she later wrote, ‘a feeling of certainty that our lives were linked for all time.’ Thanks to the extensive research of historian Avrich, completed by his daughter, Karen, readers feel the shared passions—for equality, for justice, for freedom—that forged the bond between these two firebrands, political passions that burned bright long after the cooling of the romantic passions that briefly united them as lovers. Readers will marvel at the indefatigable labors of this pair—speaking, writing, organizing—kindling new hopes for a society free from oppression and want. Still, the honest narrative exposes the dark underside of anarchist hopes, an underside evident in Berkman’s failed attempt to kill tycoon Henry Clay Frick and anarchist Leon Czolgosz’s assassination of President McKinley, an act inspired by Goldman’s incendiary rhetoric. A narrative laced with irony details the remarkable reorientation of this pair after they were deported to a Soviet Russia they had lauded as a utopia but soon fled as a monstrous dystopia. A fully human portrait of two tightly linked yet forever fiercely independent spirits.
-- Bryce Christensen Booklist (starred review)
Paul Avrich, the preeminent historian of American anarchism, was working at the time of his death in 2006 on a biography of anarchist Alexander (‘Sasha’) Berkman. One of his daughters, writer Karen Avrich, completed this final work. The book traces the lives of onetime lovers and lifelong friends and comrades Berkman and Emma Goldman. While Goldman’s life has been well documented, Berkman, who had an equally large impact on American and European anarchist history, has until now been treated as little more than a historical footnote, as the anarchist who attempted to assassinate the industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick. This book corrects that, showing the close interconnectedness of the lives of Berkman and Goldman and their impact on 20th-century anarchism… A sweeping narrative… It is an important contribution in its restoration of Berkman’s place in anarchist history. Highly recommended.
-- Jessica Moran Library Journal (starred review)
Provides an in-depth look at a lesser-known chapter of American and world history: the decades-long war that anarchists waged on governments around the world.
-- Len Barcousky Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This biography, the first to fully interweave their restless lives over six decades of agitation, education, and organization (if voluntary rather than coerced), results in a solid presentation. Paul Avrich gathered this material efficiently. Karen Avrich arranges the research into an objective, yet accessible and direct, prose style. The authors present the lives of two passionate, outspoken agitators in a calm, considered tone.
-- John L. Murphy PopMatters
As Karen Avrich recounts in the gripping dual biography Sasha and Emma, Berkman and Goldman were impassioned agitators, helping to give shape to what we now think of as the tradition of anticapitalist dissent… [She] delivers the full dramatic sweep that the subjects of Sasha and Emma demand, and beyond that, the book’s central strength is that it gives Berkman a place of equal prominence to Goldman.
-- Rochelle Gurstein Bookforum
An exceptional account of the anarchist movement in the U.S. between the 1890s and 1940s. Readers see the leading characters, organizations, and events of the anarchist community of the era, as well as the world at large, through the eyes of Sasha and Emma. Much of their history is already well known and has been the subject of many books, but Avrich sheds new light on certain aspects, such as what it was like to be a hated radical in a U.S. prison a century ago, and the experiences of the two in Bolshevik Russia after their deportation. Even such details as Emma’s housekeeper’s drinking problem are not neglected. Students of anarchism have plenty of other resources to understand its philosophy; this volume will educate them on what it was really like to live the anarchist life in the first half of the tumultuous 20th century.
-- T. S. Martin Choice
America’s most notorious anarchists turn out to be appealing characters, according to Avrich, the late Queens College professor of history, and his daughter. Jewish immigrants from czarist Russia, Emma Goldman (1869–1940) and Alexander Berkman (1870–1936) met in 1889, already fierce advocates of a utopian society without government. Berkman entered the history books in 1892 when he attempted to assassinate Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick. After 14 miserable years in prison, he rejoined Emma on the revolutionary front lines. Their campaigns consisted almost entirely of writing, speeches, and demonstrations, which resulted in relentless police harassment, beatings, and arrests. Deported to Russia in 1919, they fared no better under communism, ending their lives agitating across Europe and Canada. The authors portray Berkman sympathetically, but his ascetic, militant idealism was perhaps too radical for the public to which he was so devoted. Readers will likely gravitate toward the charismatic Goldman, who even as a young woman thrilled crowds, enjoyed life and the arts, and fell in love frequently and passionately. She remained a committed anarchist to her death, holding forth on issues—from women’s equality to acceptance of homosexuality—well in advance of her time. This fine, definitive dual biography does justice to these radicals who fought lifelong for their ideals.
-- Publishers Weekly
A magnificent work that offers at once proof of the late Paul Avrich’s keen scholarship and the lasting drama that is the life of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.
-- Paul Buhle, coeditor of Encyclopedia of the American Left
The story of Sasha and Emma—staunch comrades, intimate friends, intermittent lovers, consistent confidantes, co-conspirators driven by a passion for social justice and absolute freedom—is gripping and engaging. It’s a rare narrative of the political underworld of anarchist militants for whom bonds of personal love and devotion are a matter of life and death.
-- Candace Falk, author of Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman and director of The Emma Goldman Papers
With a wealth of detail, the richness of Paul Avrich’s intimate knowledge of anarchism, and his personal acquaintance with many anarchists, this book brings Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman to vivid life, in all their heroism and human frailty.
-- Alice Wexler, author of Emma Goldman in America and Emma Goldman in Exile