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The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography Hardcover – March 25, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (March 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608197107
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608197101
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Pawel, rigorous and captivating, follows her history of Cesar Chavez’s crusade to protect farm workers’ rights, The Union of Their Dreams (2009), with a zestful, dramatic, and redefining biography of the innovative, daring, and persevering activist. Raised by his strong mother to embrace sacrifice and help others, Chavez (1927–93) dropped out of school to work in the fields to support his destitute, homeless family, joining the ranks of California’s exploited Mexican American migrant workers. Driven by his social conscience, pragmatic genius, and motivational ardor; inspired by Gandhi; and mentored by the highly unorthodox Father Donald McDonnell and Saul Alinsky disciple and community organizer Fred Ross, Chavez created a scrappy and revolutionary labor union for “the poorest, most powerless workers in the country.” 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. --Donna Seaman

Review

"[An] honest, exhaustively researched biography of Cesar Chavez, the charismatic leader and founder of the United Farm Workers who famously led strikes and boycotts to improve the lot of grape pickers in the 1960s. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez is a biography for readers who find real human beings more compelling than icons and history more relevant than fantasy." –Los Angeles Times

"The first comprehensive biography of the spectacular rise and messy decline of the United Farm Workers Union, and the man who struck the sparks that launched an epic American social movement." - San Francisco Chronicle

"Engrossing . . . There is so much brilliant political theater in this book that it's easy to see why Chavez is still the most celebrated Latino leader in American history." - The New York Times Book Review

“Powerful and captivating, this first comprehensive biography of Latino rights leader Cesar Chavez traces the story of a man from migrant worker to union leader to icon. Though a historical figurehead, this book doesn’t shy away from Chavez’s moral blemishes, but paints him as a man of deep humanity…The Crusades of Cesar Chavez is an honest, well-rounded look at one of the 20th century’s greatest leaders.” – Los Angeles Magazine

"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

"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 “A comprehensive portrait… 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.” – Publishers Weekly "A warts-and-all biography of an important figure." –Kirkus Reviews

“The most comprehensive and accurate book on the life and work of Cesar Chavez.  It is extremely factual, and Pawel lets those facts speak for themselves.  She has no agenda or desired outcome in the book.  The book highlights the complexity of Cesar Chavez as a person, and does not hesitate to point out all of the virtues and shortcomings of Cesar's work in trying to organize California's farm workers. If you are interested in obtaining one of the best books on Cesar Chavez, this is the one.” – Cardinal Roger Mahoney “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' 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

"Miriam Pawel's magnificent biography of Cesar Chavez has the force and scope of a great American novel. Here is the story of a man, from the humblest beginnings, who became a labor organizer as famous as any; here is a deeply flawed man who yearned to be a saint." --Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography and Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez 

"Guau! Miriam Pawel has finally given us the Cesar Chavez we deserve: neither a saint nor a bully but a complex American activist who rose to the occasion with courage, astuteness, and intuition, but was also clumsy, misinformed, and nearsighted. Written in a beautifully nuanced style and displaying enviable depth of knowledge, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez is a masterpiece. Future biographies will be measured against it.” --Ilan Stavans, Amherst College, author of The United States of Mestizo 

“Miriam Pawel has produced the definitive account--a lucid, thoughtful, evocative, deeply reported, bracingly honest account--of the life of one of our most consequential modern agents of change. And what a perfect moment for this book's appearance, as the explosion of the Latino population, the implosion of the union moment, immigration policy gridlock and growing inequality have become defining issues of our American moment.” --Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers

“This is a remarkable account of the life of Cesar Chavez and of his iconic struggle for justice for America's migrant farmworkers.  Miriam Pawel provides a vivid narrative that is unmatched for the authenticity of its behind-the-scenes detail. That rarest of beasts, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez is at once an important historical document, and a compelling read.” --Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad and Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life


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More About the Author

Miriam Pawel is an author, journalist and independent scholar who has spent most of the last decade writing about California farmworkers, agriculture, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farm Workers union. Her latest book, "The Crusades of Cesar Chavez," has been hailed in starred reviews as the first and definitive biography of this iconic leader. The biography picks up from where her first book left off; "The Union of Their Dreams" is the story of the heady and life-changing days of the farm worker movement, told through the eyes of eight key participants. Pawel worked for 25 years as a reporter and editor. Her recent work was supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To learn more, visit http://miriampawel.com, which features the new blog, "Field Notes," and links to multi-media websites for "The Crusades of Cesar Chavez" and "The Union of Their Dreams."

Customer Reviews

I found this book very thorough, balanced and well researched.
Juan A. Ramos
In Miriam Pawel's book, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the author takes the reader on a journey to understand the historical figure of Cesar Chavez.
kathleen murguia
The last interviewee of the book said of Cesar that "the good outweighed the bad".
Shirley D. Johnston

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mark R. Day on April 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the past 30 years, there has always been a 10,000 pound gorilla in the room
in interpreting the life and work of Cesar Chavez. That is, people have shied away
from criticizing him because of his enormous sacrifices and contributions to the
labor movement, to farm workers and to Latinos in general. That gave rise
to the myth of Chavez vs. the complex reality of the man himself. Miriam
Pawell, through her painstaking research, gives us a complete picture of
the man, warts and all. It's important for future generations to understand
the limitations of a charismatic figure who becomes a cult leader and a
dictator, a man who preaches nonviolence, yet who countenances violence
at the same time; a man who cultivates respect for others in his writings,
yet is systematically abusive to those under him. Pawell presents all
this, not as opinions, but as objective facts based on years of studying documents,
interviewing UFW volunteers and scouring through mountains of archives and audio
tapes. Hers is the work of a true journalist and a vigorous historian. I
highly recommend this book, and I hope it becomes a text for discussion
in Chicano and ethnic studies classes. It is both an inspiring read and
a cautionary tale. It makes us reflect on the nature of true leadership.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By William Daniels on March 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The book had a special imapct for me. I worked in Dilano in 1967 as a public interest attorney for California Rural Legal Assistants. In 1969 I produced a short film called "Forbidden Fruit" that focused on the benefits provided by the Union for farmworkers and the need for a boycott of grapes.

Ms. Powel's book reveals the dark side of the movement that I supported at an important time in my life. Her reporting displays total objectivity. She does not interpret the vast evidence she has assembled in her portrait of Cesar Chavez that is both profound and troubling.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By steve lopez on April 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to imagine what the one-star reviewer actually read, if anything. Certainly not this book, which is no hagiography and in fact is a refreshingly nuanced view of Chavez as a flawed, inspired revolutionary whose personal weaknesses stood in the way of lasting progress for either the UFW or farmworkers. There is Chavez myth and Chavez reality, and this book covers the latter, with deep, deep reporting on both the victories and the failures.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shirley D. Johnston on April 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pawell humanizes a man that became a national icon. She documents his brilliance as a strategist and his limitations as a man who lied, initiated violence against braceros, and often acted to aggrandize himself rather than serve farm workers. Those actions led to the failure of a farm workers' union that had great potential. He did, however, bring the struggles of farm workers into the American consciousness, and inspired many people who went on to do even greater good for workers than he actually did. The last interviewee of the book said of Cesar that "the good outweighed the bad". That is what, in final analysis, should probably be his epitaph.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Juan A. Ramos on May 31, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this book very thorough, balanced and well researched. Despite the sainthood that has been bestowed on him by so many, Cesar Chavez was above all - human - with all the good and bad that come with it. He had his strengths and his limitations/shortcomings. His incredible organizing skills were tempered with his very poor administrative skills. His compassion clashed with his need to control. What he accomplished was astounding, yet he was also his own worst enemy. In the end he had purged just about all those who devoted their lives to him and his cause - which unfortunately became muddled and misguided with time.

This book was definitely NOT a hagiography. Had it been, I would have been very disappointed and would not rate it five stars. I enjoyed reading about Cesar Chavez the man.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By kathleen murguia on April 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
. In Miriam Pawel's book, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the author takes the reader on a journey to understand the historical figure of Cesar Chavez. In her biography of Chavez , she is not focused on an icon, or saint, and not the hagiography of a man. She does however, give the reader an understanding of the dynamics of his life. As a journalist, researcher and historian she recounts how Cesar, born into a traditional Mexican family in Arizona, participated in the life of his community and family. The "guiding force" in his immediate family was his mother, Juana. Pawel also sets a stage, describing the intricate beauty of the land, the character of its people and his family. In a pleasing narrative she talks about stories shared from many sources, and weaves them with carefully researched facts. She allows the readers to develop their own insights into his early life based on this narrative.

Cesar was twelve years of age when his life was uprooted and his family migrated to California. As Pawel describes his adolescent years, she meticulously details the movement of the family as they searched for work , often lacking the very basics to support life, food and shelter.

The books continues to chronicle Cesar's life and his crusades to build a movement to empower those who are poor; to organize a union to give Farmworkers the right to collectively bargain with their employers over wages and working conditions; and to establish communities where mutual respect, and service to others established justice.

In Chapter four of her book, Pawel quotes the young Chavez , ."It's just single-mindedness, just nothing but that . . . I think I was born with it. I mean, ...I just, when I want to do something, I make up my mind3 I want to do it. I decide.
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