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Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon Paperback – October 14, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: A Merloyd Lawrence Book by Basic Books (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738208574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738208572
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,654,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rolling Stone magazine approvingly called him "the most dangerous man in America." Owners of GM stock had less favorable epithets for him after his Corvair exposé. So did many voters, convinced that Al Gore lost only because of Ralph Nader's disruptive presence on the ballot.

Nader, Justin Martin writes in this meticulous biography, has "always taken everything to the extreme." Famed as the founder of the Nixon-era consumer-advocacy group Nader's Raiders, Nader has reveled in his gadfly role and has not been shy of using the courtroom to press his points, from auto safety to electoral reform. Inflexible, fiercely private, and single-minded, Nader seems not to care about being liked--which has lost him many potential allies among his natural constituency, Martin suggests. But he also gets things done, as even his detractors acknowledge.

Martin's book reveals Ralph Nader's many sides, admirable and otherwise. It makes thought-provoking reading for contrarians, would-be crusaders, and students of contemporary politics, no matter how they view Nader's role therein. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After the success of his Alan Greenspan biography, Martin tackles another subject with tremendous influence on American economics and politics and a largely unknown private life, but this attempt to find the man behind the public figure meets with limited success. This life of the 68-year-old Ralph Nader lingers over his already well-known public advocacy successes, like the fight for auto safety, then quickly skims over the period from 1975 to 2000, eager to get to the behind-the-scenes story of his controversial presidential campaign. The three chapters on the race provide solid chronology, but the larger questions remain open to speculation. Forced to address whether Nader cost Gore the election, the author merely ventures that "the answer lies somewhere near the intersection of political perceptions and first-grade math." He does show, however, how Nader's tenacious, unapologetic campaigning style was likely shaped by his childhood experience attending town meetings in Winsted, Conn., where his immigrant father was famously reluctant to let go of a debate. Martin has interviewed Nader and found plenty of people willing to talk about him, including former Princeton classmates and several "Nader's Raiders" from the 1970s, but never quite pierces the veil of mystery with which his subject has surrounded himself. What the story lacks in personal detail, however, it makes up in historical perspective, clarifying Nader's status as one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Justin Martin is author of the upcoming Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians (September, Da Capo Press). Earlier efforts includes biographies of pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, and Ralph Nader, the noted consumer advocate. Martin's articles have appeared in a variety of publications including the New York Times, Newsweek, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Martin is a 1987 graduate of Rice University in Houston, Texas. He lives with his wife and twin sons in Forest Hills Gardens, New York, a landmark neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. In his spare time, Martin runs marathons (he's completed seven) and gardens (he's grown some great tomatoes, but his experiments in urban corn-growing have so far failed).

Customer Reviews

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That being said, I found this book to be remarkably balanced.
Eddie Konczal
Part of why this book seems so fantastic to me may have something to do with the fact that it's the only one of its kind.
Lee L.
The public Nader is well known, but the private Ralph is exactly that, very private.
Eric Gudorf

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Eddie Konczal on November 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'm admittedly biased towards Ralph Nader, having volunteered and voted for him during the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. That being said, I found this book to be remarkably balanced. It's neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job, but rather gives equal weight to Nader's achievements and shortcomings.
Martin writes extremely well, with a brisk pace: by page 30 Nader has finished law school, and by page 45 he's written "Unsafe at Any Speed" and is ready to take on GM! Despite the quick pacing, Martin doesn't gloss over Nader's early years: he presents the reader with all the necessary information on Nader's upbringing and influences, relying on well-chosen anecdotes rather than tedious genealogies.
The section on Nader's crusade against GM practically reads like a spy thriller. Fans of Nader will thrill during his "peak period" of 1969-1976, when it seemed he could do no wrong. But those same fans will scratch their head later on, when Nader inexplicably sabotages some of his own initiatives through a refusal to compromise with Congress.
Martin quickens the pace of the book yet again when detailing Nader's quixotic presidential runs. He describes the alienation Nader felt after being rebuffed by the Clinton/Gore administration - a feeling than no doubt sparked his candidacy and defused any feelings of remorse at possibly costing Gore the 2000 election. The irony of Nader's career is that he achieved the most when Republicans were in power, because he expected little of their administrations and focused on galvanizing grassroots efforts to achieve reform.
This is an excellent biography, a revealing portrait of a man who has devoted his life to consumer advocacy and making America a safer place to live.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lee L. on July 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
For as much as Ralph Nader has influenced and shaped events in this country, most people know next to nothing about the man. Nader has had a long, fruitful career fighting for those without a voice. In this book, Justin Martin has provided the most revealing, eye opening account of a truly great citizen.

As far as biographies go, this book is pretty straitforward. Martin covers Nader's childhood, school days, college days, and then onto Nader's career in Washington D.C. Martin invterviewed members of Nader's family and also his friends to help accumulate the material for the book.

Part of why this book seems so fantastic to me may have something to do with the fact that it's the only one of its kind. If you want to know about how Nader got to where he is today, Martin's book is the only one available. That notwithstanding, I think the book does a great job. The fact that Nader hasn't publicly spoken out against the book also speaks to its merit. If Nader didn't like this book, or thought Martin got anything significant wrong, I believe Ralph would have let us know about it.

Hopefully all those angry democrats will sit down with this book and find out how much good Nader has done for this country...
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Eric Gudorf on October 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Ralph Nader is arguably one of the most fascinating (and polarizing) figures on the American scene. He's been in the public eye for nearly four decades, and has along the way attracted intense loyalty but also intense fury, especially after running a presidential campaign two years ago that split the political left right down the middle. Nader is nothing if not a tightly wrapped bundle of contradictions, all of which simply makes him so intriguing. The public Nader is well known, but the private Ralph is exactly that, very private. Which naturally causes someone like me to ask the question: just what makes this guy tick?
In truth, we'll probably never know the whole Nader, which only makes a biography such as this all the more interesting. The author had thorough access to both Nader himself as well as lots of his allies, ex-allies, family members and others who were associated with or interacted with him over the years, yet, despite all this, the author, at the end of the day, seems to find the man as much an enigma as when he started this project. The reader is left to read between the lines and in the process form his own conclusions. And my own go along the following: first, it's my theory that Nader is hard to peg down because he is a leading member of a group that's never been formally identified, a group I'll call Political Fundamentalists. Much like their counterparts on the Right (the Religious Fundamentalists), the Political Fundamentalists possess an overwhelming sense of the rightness of their ideology. They are, in this world of all-around relativism, political True Believers for whom terms like "negotiate" and "give and take" simply don't exist in their lexicon and "compromise" is a dirty word.
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Format: Paperback
Nader has an incredible life story that would probably make for an excellent movie or biography. However, this book does a lackluster job spinning Nader's story into an engaging narrative. Most of the chapters follow the same boring pattern: Nader identified issue X, Nader decided to start a nonprofit to combat issue X, Nader tapped John Doe to lead the nonprofit, and the nonprofit did or did not succeed in getting a law passed. It became repetitious and dull very quickly, and the best parts occurred when the author deviated from this formula and mentioned more specific details. For example, at one point Nader was incredibly close to getting a bill passed to create a Consumer Protection Agency, yet he inexplicably began criticizing the Congressman who had championed the bill by saying he had gutted it. This led to a permanent rift and did damage to Nader's cause, and it had me scratching my head as to what Nader was thinking. Was Nader right in that the bill had been effectively gutted? Or was Nader upset for other reasons? I don't know, because the author doesn't tell us. This is the kind of detail I'm looking for in a book like this-- if I wanted to simply read a laundry-list of organizations started by Nader, I could simply look him up in an encyclopedia.

Even so, Nader's life has been so full of activity that I felt compelled to finish the book despite the fact that the author's style quite frequently put me to sleep. Oftentimes I fell asleep with the book in my lap and wondered why I was wasting my life reading it, until I remembered that Nader had accomplished more in his lifetime than pretty much anyone I have ever met. Didn't this guy ever get tired?
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