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Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson Hardcover – January 8, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124341
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124347
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* By virtue of her marriage to artist and activist Paul Robeson, Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson lived a life far beyond the restrictions placed on black women of her era. But she was much more than Mrs. Paul Robeson; she was an accomplished, independent woman with a drive and personality that complemented her husband’s and added to the complexities of their marriage. Black-history scholar Ransby draws on the Robeson family archives to present a portrait of a woman who grew to exercise her hunger for global travel and understanding. Essie served as her husband’s business manager and shared his controversial political beliefs, for which both paid an enormous price during the Cold War. Their turbulent 44-year marriage moved beyond infidelities to settle into an open arrangement. Ransby chronicles Essie’s life as wife, manager, and mother but puts rightful emphasis on Essie’s own career and accomplishments. She was an anthropologist and author (coauthoring one book with Pearl Buck), a women’s rights and anticolonialism activist, and, for 20 years, a freelance journalist and UN correspondent, traveling to more than 40 countries on 5 continents. This is an astonishing biography of a woman until now best known for her marriage to her famous husband. --Vanessa Bush


"In this incredibly powerful, vital work, Ransby has rescued Eslanda Robeson from the shadows of her famous husband and establishes her as one of the most important activists, scholars, critics and theorists to connect anticolonialism with the black freedom movement in the U.S."—Robin Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
(Robin Kelley)

“This is an enormously rich book by a masterful biographer, full of novel insights and surprises.”—Penny Von Eschen, University of Michigan
(Penny Von Eschen)

"Barbara Ransby has produced an insightful, fascinating, and significant biography. Eslanda Robeson has too long stood in the shadow of her remarkable husband, but as Ransby shows she was an important writer and political activist in her own right, whose life illuminates the international dimensions of the 20th-century black freedom movement."—Eric Foner, Columbia University

(Eric Foner)

 "From a master biographer and historian of African American women, this mesmerizing story of an extraordinary woman's life and struggles offers a global view of black radical history. After this book no one will be able to think of Eslanda merely as Mrs. Paul Robeson."—Linda Gordon, author of Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits
(Linda Gordon)

"Scholar and activist Ransby deftly details the accomplishments, struggles and impact of Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson... A well-researched, informative, readable biography."—Kirkus Reviews 
(Kirkus Reviews)

"This long overdue biography of a bold scholar-activist emerging from the shadow of her famous husband is a gift, and such are Ransby's narrative skills that I wept when, in her final pages, the vibrant Essie died, two days shy of 70. Ransby has a history of rescuing historically overlooked black female leaders; a prior biography was of the venerable civil rights activist Ella Baker. This new work is a major contribution to her glorious reclamation project."—Joan Steinau Lester, Ms. Magazine
(Joan Steinau Lester Ms. Magazine)

"What Barbara Ransby achieved in her biography of Ella Baker is repeated with verve and astonishing insight in Eslanda: The Labor and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson.” —Herb Boyd, New York Amsterdam News
(Herb Boyd New York Amsterdam News)

"Fascinating. . . A poignant portrait of a peripatetic, human rights activist willing to challenge oppression of any form wherever she could find it."—Kam Williams, Insight
(Kam Williams Insight)

"Compelling."—Eleanor J. Bader, In These Times
(Eleanor J. Bader In These Times)

"Eslanda Goode Robeson deserves this fine biography that frees her from her role as Mrs. Paul Robeson and uncovers a life that defies summary, so varied, wide-ranging, and intense it was . . . Ransby skillfully organizes the details into a fascinating, well-researched account . . . A breathtaking biography. Highly recommended, all libraries."—Choice

Won Honorable Mention for the 2013 Southern California Book Festival, in the Biography/Autobiography category, sponored by JM Northern Media LLC.
(Southern California Book Festival JM Northern Media LLC 2013-10-22)

Won an Honorable Mention for the 2013 New England Book Festival given by the JM Northern Media Family of Festivals, in the Biography/Autobiography Category.
(New England Book Festival JM Northern Media 2013-12-27)

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the North America Category.
(Outstanding Academic Title Choice 2014-01-21)

Won a Honorable Mention for the 2014 Los Angeles Book Festival in the Biography/Autobiography Category.
(Los Angeles Book Festival JM Northern Media LLC 2014-03-13)

"Through the vast intellect and devoted political commitments of Barbara Ransby, Essie's ferocious clarity about global solidarity in thought and action, her defiance of the forces of racism and reaction, and her remarkable resilience and intellectual curiosity which led her to teach and write, to engage and then to wholeheartedly embrace the struggles of her time—tell us much about ourselves and the challenges to buck up."—Bernadine Dohrn, Monthly Review
(Bernadine Dohrn Monthly Review)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Eslanda Robeson is known to most as Paul Robeson's wife. This book will go far in showing what a force she was in not only his life, but in working for the civil rights for those who did not have her wealth or public persona.
Barbara Ransby does an excellent job of opening "Essie's" life in this book. She explains her open marriage with Paul, the troubles and joys they shared. The good, the unpleasant and the contradictions of her life all come to light. You do not have to agree with all the choices; both personal and political that Eslanda made, but you have to admire her determination.
She was a woman who was an activist for civil rights in many countries. She stepped out onto the world stage to try to change the things she thought were wrong and support the causes she thought were right, even when she was in extremely poor health.

We read of her independence, even leaving her 6 month old son to travel. We learn of her groundbreaking activities in the US and on the African continent, but are also presented with the quandary that she and Paul never said anything concerning Stalin's purge trials while they supported the communist system. The writing is an even approach to this lady's history; even Essie crediting that she knew much of her power came from her husband's fame and money. It gave her a platform - all aspects of her life are well covered.

This book was written with the cooperation of the Robeson family and many of Essie's notes, diaries and journals are used in documenting it. There are almost 100 pages of the 373 page book that contain a timeline, notes and an index. The introduction and epilogue sum up what the focus of the book is and its goal in describing Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson's life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William E. Adams on August 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I "discovered" Paul Robeson's singing when I was 14, in 1959, via a Vanguard Records folk sampler LP borrowed from the library. The song was "Get on Board, Little Children" and only lasted 1:18. That brief introduction changed my music exploration direction and cost me a great deal of money over the next 50 years, as I bought Robeson records, tapes, and biographies, and rented Robeson films on VHS from the 1920's and '30's. I also watched on tape James Earl Jones play Big Paul in a two-man show. One cannot get that much exposure to Paul the vocalist, actor and international leftist anti-racist activist without learning quite a bit of the life of his wife. Now we have a full biography of Eslanda in which Paul, while not a minor character, is certainly in a supporting role. Mrs. Robeson was a scientist, writer, lecturer, world traveler, manager of her husband's early career, and political leftist activist with a special interest in fighting racism and supporting the overthrow of colonial powers in Africa. There are lots of books and films about the struggle for black civil rights in America (I just came from a screening of the new film "The Butler" and it is an excellent history lesson on that topic.) This book ends just before the U.S. struggle began to have lasting victories, around 1965, because Eslanda died that year, and her husband was in forced retirement due to poor mental health and physical exhaustion. The Robesons battled for the cause of black rights world-wide starting in the '20's, escalating in the '30's, and becoming even more radical in the '40's and '50's. I confess to skimming some of the chapters regarding Eslanda's pro-Communist activities and visits to Africa. Some of her causes are outdated now, and all of her friends have passed on.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David J. Kalke on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An incredible summary of a fantastic life, taking the reader in and out of the Renaissance in Harlem, to the United Nations, to the Congo, to Madrid and Moscow revealing a period of progressive history almost forgotten - certainly ignored - in the United States. A fascinating life mingles the details of personal life with the challenges of progressive political positions inside a conservative and repressive USA during the 1950's. Well written, fascinating and delightful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Juanita C. Storey on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While historical material covered was interesting, writing style was plodding.. This fact in my opinion detracted fromthebook and made reading it a matterof " forcing" oneself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donalda Lovelace on March 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was riveted to the pages. Was astounded by the depth of her intellectual curiosity and her independence. Her life independent of Paul Robeson was amazing!
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Format: Kindle Edition
The author provides an extremely detailed chronicle of the life
of this intelligent, tenacious and extraordinary woman who
was married to the highly complicated Paul Robeson.
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