cover image Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman

Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman

Paul and Karen Avrich. Harvard Univ., $35 (520p) ISBN 978-0-674-06598-7

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. B&w photos. Agent: Scott Moyers, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.)