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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nuanced study of a passionate pair
"Red Emma" Goldman turns out a misnomer. She and her companion, and one-time lover, "Sasha" born Alexander Berkman, shared a defiant commitment to anarchism. Deported to newly Soviet Russia after the newly imposed Espionage Act expelled the pair from a WWI America resenting their revolutionary calls for no government and voluntary cooperation, Sasha and Emma within weeks...
Published on October 19, 2012 by John L Murphy

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2.0 out of 5 stars Incredible research on the lives of two incredible people made incredibly boring by avoiding the substance of their ideas
I did manage to read every page of this book, but with an increasingly sinking heart and the forlorn hope that surely the author could not continue to avoid, page after page, chapter after chapter, anything more that the briefest of summaries of the substance of the ideas that motivated and moved these two incredible people through their lives. It's not that I don't...
Published 8 months ago by Lee Weiner


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nuanced study of a passionate pair, October 19, 2012
This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
"Red Emma" Goldman turns out a misnomer. She and her companion, and one-time lover, "Sasha" born Alexander Berkman, shared a defiant commitment to anarchism. Deported to newly Soviet Russia after the newly imposed Espionage Act expelled the pair from a WWI America resenting their revolutionary calls for no government and voluntary cooperation, Sasha and Emma within weeks resented their return to their homeland. Exiled, one came back for only three weeks years later and the other never did. They both died in the South of France, four years apart, as again war loomed.

So, if neither Berkman nor Goldman were communists, how did their anarchism infuse their lives? Paul Avrich, a professor of Russian History and Anarchism at Queens College, CUNY, spent his career interviewing those who knew the pair. His daughter, Karen, completes his project and their joint effort in this dual biography pays tribute to the odyssey of this compelling, angry, idealistic pair, fittingly.

The Avriches fluently transcribe the memories of many who shared their recollections with Paul in the 1970s. As I read this, I found myself intrigued by how deeply anarchists a century ago had entered into their own Occupy Movement, from Puget Sound communities where my father-in-law grew up and less surprisingly the Lower East Side neighborhood where I would stay next month, to a few miles away from my house, where the first Los Angeles Times building was blown up during a pro-union dispute in 1910. That location lent itself to over a half-dozen causes célèbres infusing these four-hundred pages of text with places and names still resonating today, for a few radicals.

The Haymarket affair, the Homestead strike, the Frick shooting, the Ludlow massacre, the McNamara brothers, the Mooney-Billings trial, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Spanish Civil War: at the heart of all these, the energy of Sasha and Emma--and their compatriots who denied the legitimacy of any organization, as Autonomist anarchists dismissing leaders themselves--pulsed. Their outrage at what radicals objected to as violence within the capitalist system and coercive legislation by political tyrants and financial tycoons rankled. Autonomists coalesced internationally after innocent anarchists were sentenced to death for the Haymarket incident. In 1886, a bomb went off as police broke up a peaceful Chicago meeting of those opposed to police brutality. Autonomists (unlike most anarchists) rationalized their violent reaction to such repression by Capital and its political representatives as infinitesimal compared to the death count of millions of lives lost under authority and the state.

That Haymarket incident indirectly set this saga in motion. Immigrating to New York, at the age of sixteen for Emma and eighteen for Sasha, the Russian pair met a year after Sasha's arrival to Manhattan, in 1889 at a leftist café. The Jewish but atheist couple bonded over a common upbringing in Kovno; both had uncles who were anti-tsarist violent radicals, Nihilists. A tempestuous relationship began; never a romantic couple for long, one cannot say they did not practice free love vigorously. Modska Aronston, Sasha's cousin, formed therefore an enduring ménage à trois.

They connected in their common hatred of capitalism, and their united commitment to Autonomists, fueled by the Haymarket incident. In 1892, they had an opportunity to act on their convictions. When manager Henry Clay Frick refused to give in to striking steel workers in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a siege of the giant mill resulted. Strikers battled the despised Pinkerton security guards, with fatalities on both sides. Locked out for five months, the union members and their families dug in, but had to give in to massive force. The union entirely broken by the corporation run by Andrew Carnegie, to drive home the magnate's refusal never to negotiate, his chairman of the board Frick won the battle.

But he lost a war with radicals. A plot for revenge slowly formed in Pittsburgh. Emma tried to raise funds from a night streetwalking. A kindly gentleman took pity on her hapless attempt, and paid her upfront to go home. Partially financed by this strategem, Sasha bought a grey suit, calling cards with the name of a respectable employment agency, and a cheap '38 revolver. He gained entry to Frick's office. Two bullets met their mark; three stab wounds in the struggle that followed plunged deep.

Berkman confessed a moment of pity which nearly disarmed him, but his devotion returned. He gloried in the thwarted assassination, not because he had not earned a murder charge, but because he revenged the cause of labor. His fanatical devotion put him at odds even with Emma. She had countered regarding their partnership: "I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy." She danced, flirted, easily won over wooers, and fired up the crowds with a natural gift for oratory. Short, fat, unprepossessing, but once she spoke, she ignited her audiences.

This talent worked against her: promotion of an unpopular cause found the pair and their comrades reviled; the first American war on domestic terror erupted. The Avriches observe: "A populist at heart, Sasha fought to apply Russian solutions to American problems." His love of the gun and his Nihilist and Autonomist bent left him an outcast in his adopted land. After he tried to represent himself in court in a typically headstrong fashion, he went to the Federal penitentiary for more charges than his admittedly brutal case merited, a sentence of twenty-two years. He was twenty-one.

While Sasha learned from the savagery in his Pennsylvania cell the necessity for prison reform, as his later-published memoirs presented an eloquent and expert testimony for such progress, Emma had to survive. She was hated by many. Odd jobs and a year or so underground as "E.G. Smith" proved her fate after President McKinley's unhinged assassin claimed he "was a disciple of Emma Goldman".

The media backlash drove Emma and her associates into desperation. While most anarchists, then and now, promote non-violent means to social harmony and economic equality, a few court the spotlight for better or worse to incite and irritate. Public reaction, after the death of McKinley, forced Goldman and company to seek a better method to convince the huddled masses. On his release from prison after eighteen years in the pen, Berkman took up the pen. In 1906, he became editor of Goldman and friends' fresh project Mother Earth, a monthly publication. (See my Oct. 2012 review of its contents anthologized as Anarchy!, edited in its 2012 expanded version by Peter Greenglass.)

Berkman stayed true to his habits. He masterminded a plot, after the Ludlow, Colorado, massacre of striking miners, to kill John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1914. He did not involve himself directly. His conspirators in Manhattan failed to get close enough to their target, so they took their bomb back to their Lexington Avenue apartment. There, in proximity with stored dynamite, it exploded; three of the anarchists died, twenty residents in the building were injured. The casualties would have been higher if it were not a holiday finding many occupants on the streets already, for the Fourth of July.

An urn with ashes from the three at their funeral "formed the shape of a pyramid symbolic of the class system, with a clenched fist bursting from the apex." Such details enliven this book. While dense in its accounts of where the globetrotting pair roamed and whose paths they crossed, the narrative moves steadily and downplays even the inevitable ideological feuds and rivalries endemic to any political movement, favoring a careful, objective relating of the pair's actions and writings.

To protest the militarization celebrated at a 1916 Preparedness Parade in San Francisco, Italian anarchists planted another device. Ten spectators died; forty were wounded. The blame fell instead on local labor organizers and agitators. Tom Mooney and Warren Billings were sentenced, as were the McNamara brothers in Los Angeles a few years earlier, in a climate markedly anti-union and pro-business, supported by a vindictive judiciary, corrupt police,grandstanding politicians and sensationalist media. The relevance of such episodes within this study needs no elaboration.

Sasha was not involved, but his determination to defend Mooney led to his indictment. He opposed the draft, so this led the Federal government to apply wartime legislation. This called for his deportation as a disloyal Russian national and his exile, along with Emma and other anarchists, many of whom had emigrated from what was bursting into the Soviet Union there, which fired up the first Red Scare here.

On trial in 1917, Berkman challenged the court: "Are you going to suppress free speech and liberty in this country, and still pretend that you love liberty so much that you will fight for it five thousand miles away?" Goldman followed in her final statement: "Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults." This time Sasha (and Emma) had a competent lawyer, but the jury took thirty-nine minutes to return a verdict of guilty.

After serving time in America, the pair were sent off along with other foreign-born anarchists and Communists to the USSR at the end of 1919. Emma was fifty and Sasha about a year younger. J. Edgar Hoover claimed personal credit for their expulsion. Her private letters, he confided, made for "spicy reading".

Bolshevik oppression of their own party, not to mention socialists and anarchists, almost immediately disheartened them. Lenin summoned Berkman and Goldman to serve their new state by forming a mutual friendship society with America; the couple had resisted assisting the Soviets directly. The Kronstadt rebellion and its savage suppression showed how thousands rather than a handful might be slaughtered by a power who bested that of capitalists in his cynical bloodshed.

A chance for Emma to attend an anarchist's convention in Berlin offered a chance to escape. 1922 opened with the pair fleeing to Stockholm, then Berlin and Paris. Emma wound up in London while Sasha remained in Germany. By now, both rushed to assist the victims of Communist rule along with getting their accounts into print, if in botched form by the publishers. These books reported for the first time the truth about the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

But many purported progressives refused to believe. Leftists hurried to dismiss the pair as traitors, while more moderate readers remembered Berkman and Goldman's strident defenses of violence in the name of an anarchist ideal equally suspect by the majority. Neither book sold very well. However, H.L. Mencken praised them, and intellectuals tended in Britain and on the Continent to regard Emma and Sasha with more sympathy and indulgence for what they had endured in the US and the USSR.

Both found love separately, and both wound up in the South of France. A paper marriage allowed Emma to travel on a British passport. A campaign by her friends to Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR, enabled Emma to return to the America she missed, if for three weeks in 1934. She managed on her visit, in her mid-sixties, to enter a tumultuous affair with a scholar of anarchism at the University of Chicago. A married man and a father, blind since four months old, he was then in his mid-thirties.

In the 1930s, Berkman chose to settle in Nice and Goldman in St. Tropez. Sasha had fallen for a tempestuous girl in her early twenties who proved difficult. Emma enjoyed her modest villa and visited the syndicalists and anarchists fighting for the Spanish government against fascism. Both authors warned, long before that decade had darkened, how Communism led to fascism, two sides of corporate control and authoritarian imposition upon the individual, whose freedom anarchism proclaimed.

Worn out by poverty, extreme pain, and the effects of poor nutrition and incarceration for so long, Berkman suffered from depression. He took his life in 1936, but as with his attempt on Frick, his shots missed the fatal mark, and he died in agony after the fact. Forty-four years after his first use of the pistol, he had fumbled the final action again.

Goldman lasted four more years. After lobbying in Toronto to raise funds for refugees from the Spanish Civil War and the defeat of her allies, she succumbed to a second stroke. Both are buried in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Haymarket anarchists who first inspired the pair.

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. Endnotes list sources (a full index but no separate works cited) for those eager to follow the journey, ideologically and geographically, of this wide-ranging Russian couple. Although Sasha and Emma worked better as partners rather than lovers, their contributions to the history of political upheaval and social change resonate. A few blocks from the sites of anarchist protests and rallies, Occupy Wall Street rose up a hundred years later, as a similar struggle continues.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To free the earth of the oppressors of the workingmen", November 16, 2012
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This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
These words were uttered by Alexander Berkman before he was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. The story of Berkman and Emma Goldman is well known. This brilliant book which was completed by the author's daughter is a comprehensive history not only of this famous couple but is also a riveting social history of the years 1880-1940. Berkman was accused of attempting to murder Frick,the famous capitalist. The detailed description about this whole affair is offered to the reader as if it were scrutinized under a microscope.
Other interesting chapters deal with Emma Goldman's affair with Ben Reitman,the killing of President McKinley in 1901, the deeds of many other lesser known anarchists, the deportation of Emma and Sasha to Russia (courtesy of Edgar J. Hoover) and the final days of both after having returned, disillusioned by the Bolshevik Revolution, from Russia to Canada and France, respectively. As Sasha wrote,"the breath of yesterday is dooming millions to death; the shadow of today hangs like a black pall over the country. Dictatorship is trampling the masses under foot. The Revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness".
Berkman, known as "Sasha', was an eternal rebel whose disturbing acts of violence were tempered by his tireless efforts to improve the lot of the oppressed. He served his sentence for assault and it was in prison where he wrote his memoirs of an anarchist ,which detailed his bleak experience and exposed corruption in the American penal system.
Between 1909 and 1919,the year he was deported, he edited the two most prominent anarchist periodicals of the era, organized mass protests on behalf of radical and labout causes, and also gave speeches around the United States about his beliefs.
Emma laboured in factories, founded the famous "Mother Earth" journal, authored her biography, and spent the last years of her life decrying the rise of Nazism and fighting the threat of Fascism during the Spanish Civil War. She was considered at one point "the msot dangerous woman living in the USA".
Anarchism, which was defined as endorsing the ideal that the state must be replaced by voluntary associations, was not introduced by the two in the United Stated. Its history started some decades earlier.
Did the anarchists worldwide achieve anything? In my view the answer is positive, since one can doubt it very much if the workers throughout the world could have gained any social benefits or the betterment of their condition had anarchist ideas not percolated through the psyche of the American and the European mind.
This brilliant book is based on many letters, diaries, photos, newspapers, pamphlets and many interviews-all of which were finally arranged by the author's daughter, who has done a marvellous job in recreating a mosaic about one of the most fascinating periods and topics of history. The book which can be read as a history, a novel or the combination of two is extremely well written, with many anecdotes. It will serve as a monument for those who fought for the oppressed and, in many way, succeeded in their quest.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial Conclusion of Anarchist Trilogy, July 10, 2013
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Keith Wheelock (Skillman, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
For me, SASHA AND EMMA: THE ANARCHIST ODYSSEY OF ALEXANDER BERKMAN AND EMMA GOLDMAN is the Avrich magnum opus on anarchism. The Kronstadt rebellion of 1921 sparked Professor Avrich's two-generation professional career as THE leading chronicler of anarchism, its personalities, and its diverse ramifications. in 2006, at the age of 74, Professor Avrich died, leaving a partially completed SASHA AND EMMA manuscript, which he asked his daughter Karen to complete.

Six years later, SASHA AND EMMA was published. I find it astonishing that a father/daughter could collaborate on a book that is as seamlessly 'Paul Avrich' as his seminal 1984 THE HAYMARKET TRAGEDY (see my July 7, 2013 Amazon review) and SACCO AND VANZETTI: THE ANARCHIST BACKGROUND.

SASHA AND EMMA is a whacking good read. It is especially important for those like me (a college American and world history professor since 1992) who think they know about the Homestead Strike, anti-anarchist hysteria, the antecedents to the 'Palmer raids' and the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, and about a fierce warrior who could harangue in multiple languages, cook, sew, and nurse, love Russia and then leave it totally disillusioned. I urge that you discover how little you really know. Incidentally, only an accountant could calculate whether Emma Goldman had more lovers than arrests.

The Avrichs provide a rich panorama of the genesis of American (and immigrant-fueled) anarchism through the lives of Emma Goldman, Alexander (Sasha) Berkman, and a cast of hundreds of anarchists both in America and in Europe. Sasha, whom I had only known as a minor figure who had bungled the assassination of Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Strike, emerges as a major counterpoint to "Red Emma' over two turbulent generations.

The Avrichs seem to know everything about everyone in the anarchists' world, from boudoirs to bomb making. All this contributes to a marvelous and, at times, frenetic account of how anarchists bonded (and, on occasion, bombed)together. I felt sympathy for the passion and dedication of this 'happy band of warriors.' Within a core thread of 'family unity,' they experienced squabbles, ideological divisiveness, and personal quirks, as well as cheekiness when confronted with arbitrary harassment, arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. Often prison provided an opportunity to study, as Emma and Sasha earned cell-block Ph D.s in literature, languages, and anarchist erudition.

Government, police, the media, and the business community relentlessly insisted that all anarchists were evil (and often foreign). The Avrichs reveal the diversity and humanity of those who were stigmatized as 'anarchists' A common theme was opposition to the state and to economic injustice. A few anarchists were bomb throwers, many were not. Sexual freedom was a motif for many (the book provides grist for a lusty TV series). Contraception and even abortion were early concerns for Emma and a few other anarchists. Often anarchists were a family that was quick to raise alarm and funds for family members subjected to oppressive police and government tactics, perjury-riddled trials, and, often, arbitrary imprisonment.

What emerges for me is a strong admiration for these wild-and-wooly individuals characterized as 'anarchists.' They certainly appear vastly more admirable than those who relentlessly persecuted them for their thoughts as well as their actions. Freedom of speech and a fair trial are supposedly guaranteed under the U. S. Constitution. That these were steadfastly denied to anarchists is a far darker stain on the oppressors than on the oppressed.

Sasha plays a major role in this saga. I imagine him as a 'sweet anarchist.' His passions, while vibrant, are trumped by Emma's. Emma Goldman emerges as one of the strongest and most admirable women of her era. She could be revolutionary, cool as a riverboat gambler, loyal beyond all reasonable limits, distant and dismissive, and someone who could enchant Eugene O'Neill, Upton Sinclair, Leon Trotsky, Clarence Darrow, Helen Keller, Lenin, and George Bernard Shaw.

What struck me most about Emma was her unflagging integrity to her core beliefs. She loved America, but never sought citizenship. She fought fiercely for her American rights, for which, quite cheerfully, she endured arrests and imprisonments. She became enraptured with the Russian revolution and, after the 'Palmer raids,' was deported to Russia. When this revolution betrayed her (and the Russian people),she was as passionately outspoken as when she had been crusading throughout America for the constitutional rights of the oppressed, especially the working class.

The story is about the personalities and the many travails of those individuals and groups characterized as 'anarchists.' It is a complex and essential story for anyone who seeks to understand America (and Europe) in the late 19th century and into much of the 20th century. For me, the hero, in Joseph Campbell's context, is Emma Goldman.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, November 16, 2013
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This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
Excellent book, hated to put it down. The only thing I didn`t like was the ending. Not the ending itself, as much as that the book ended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work on interesting people, May 6, 2014
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This is a fascinating book. The authors do an excellent job of taking you through the world of late 19th-early 20th century radicals, covering every aspect from ideology to lifestyle. Berkman and Goldman lived very much on the margins of society, and they both were highly unconventional (free love wasn't an idea from the 1960s). The book also does a good job of describing the large, brilliant group of working-class people, mostly immigrants, who still found time to form complex ideologies and spend hours writing, reading, and speaking on their beliefs. It's written well enough to be a real page-turner as well.

It also does a good job of explaining what legal problems radicals faced at the time, and the similarities and differences from today are obvious. Of course Sasha would deserve a long prison term for attempted murder, but at the time it was thought that 22 years was an unusually long sentence; this length would be considered mild today, and the long periods of solitary confinement he experienced for agitating on the prisoners' behalf was similar to what happens to modern prisoners, albeit without straightjackets. Besides this case, most of the charges they face are spurious and are mostly designed to shut them up; this tactic is of course still used against radical protesters in nearly all Western countries (to say nothing of non-Western ones) today. Ultimately, they are deported to the newly-formed USSR after speaking out against American involvement in World War I. The Espionage Act and the Sedition Act at the time criminalized speaking out against the war and threw the First Amendment out the window, with the full consent of the Supreme Court. Most anti-war voices at the time (e.g. Eugene Debs) were also thrown in prison.

Of course, they both rapidly grew to hate the authoritarian practices of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and left for Western Europe, where they were not received well by leftists who still held out hope for the Soviet Union. They bounce around across Western Europe and Canada for the rest of their lives, and the authors discuss the cultures of the leftists in those areas as well.

All in all, a very well-written and meticulously researched book by both father and daughter that also manages to be a captivating book on fascinating subjects. 5 stars.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Incredible research on the lives of two incredible people made incredibly boring by avoiding the substance of their ideas, April 6, 2014
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I did manage to read every page of this book, but with an increasingly sinking heart and the forlorn hope that surely the author could not continue to avoid, page after page, chapter after chapter, anything more that the briefest of summaries of the substance of the ideas that motivated and moved these two incredible people through their lives. It's not that I don't stand in awe of the research involved in telling me who, exactly, Emma stayed with during which particular speaking tour in which particular state, then later country by country, but I have a very old fashioned doctorate in the social sciences. I'm not sure anyone who picks this book up will be able to finish it without that quaint scholarly certificate, or who, like me, can't believe that the stories and the substance of Emma and Sasha's lives that the authors had to have heard from their sources wouldn't find a place in this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars All about a period we rarely hear about, February 8, 2014
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This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
Turrn of 20th century and country was trying to adjust to Industialization. TR did it with anti-monopoly progressive leadership, Sasha and Emma attempted it European and Russian way, through anarchy, terror and revolution.
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5.0 out of 5 stars rich and accessible, July 8, 2013
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I loved this book which provides a highly readable account of the rich lives of struggle engaged by Emma Goldman and her former lover and dearest comrade/friend Alexander Berkman. The narrative moves quickly. Despite irritating constant references to Goldman's pretty face and looks, the book makes for compulsive page-turning about true figures of history who set very inspiring examples for activists today. it inspired me to start a journal.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a pair!, February 10, 2013
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This review is from: Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Hardcover)
An amazing story of two very interesting and accomplished folks. I don't have to agree with everything they believed but I have to stand up and cheer their passion and hard work. I learned so much about U.S. history and politics and I think the authors present a balanced view. What an engrossing book this is!
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4.0 out of 5 stars All you never knew about anarchists in America, January 14, 2013
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Very well researched - I actually ordered it to give to a goddaughter who was an anarchist in her youth, to see whether she still has the same ideals.
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