Film star. Icon. Agitator. Martyr.
Paul Robeson was a prize-winning scholar and the greatest footballer of his era, even before he ascended to global superstardom as a singer, Hollywood actor, and activist. The son of an escaped slave, Robeson stunned audiences with ‘Ol’ Man River’ and Othello, as his passion for social justice led him from Jazz Age Harlem to the mining towns of Wales, from the frontiers of the Spanish Civil War to Stalin’s Russia.
Charismatic, eloquent, and handsome, he had everything — and then lost it all for the sake of his principles.
Jeff Sparrow traces Robeson’s troubled life and stellar career, in a story that traverses the arc of the twentieth century and illuminates the fissures of today’s fractured world. From Black Lives Matter to Putin’s United Russia, Sparrow visits the places Robeson lived and worked, exploring race in America, freedom in Moscow, and the legacies of communism and fascism in Europe.
Part travelogue, part biography, this is a tale of political ardour, heritage, and trauma — a luminous portrait of a remarkable man, and an urgent reflection on the crises that define us now.
'Paul Robeson was truly a giant of a man, in physical stature, courage, intellect, and creative endeavour. With this intimate and engaging portrait, we are able to gain an invaluable insight into a major political and artistic talent of the twentieth century. Ours is a time requiring inspiration, affiliation, and solidarity. Paul Robeson surely provides the inspiration we desperately need.'
Tony Birch, author of Blood and Ghost River
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'With sensitive inquisition; fierce curiosity; razor-sharp observation; crisp, engaging prose; and a fondness and respect for his subject that fairly sings, Sparrow once again proves himself one of the finest nonfiction writers we have.'
Maxine Beneba Clarke, author of The Hate Race
'An amazing story I didn't even know I didn't know. Jeff pulls us through the grubby terrain of race, Jesus, prison, and fascism.'
John Safran, author of Murder in Mississippi
'Part journalist, part historian, Jeff Sparrow writes with loving discernment about a remarkable man and the forces that shaped his unmistakable voice. [This is] a gripping story of courage and commitment, told by one of our finest chroniclers of the human capacity for tenderness amid the squalor. Sparrow takes us on a global journey, revealing that beyond an old man and a river, there lies a deep valley of hatred and hope, sadness and solidarity.'
Claire Wright, Stella Prize-winning author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka
‘Urgent and compelling ... A mix of essay, journalism, history and biography [that is] engaging, original and insightful ... Fascinating, instructive and full of astute observations on race and politics, In Search of Paul Robeson will appeal to readers passionate about social justice and the history of 20th-century political movements.’
'Brilliantly told by Jeff Sparrow, Paul Robeson's story is compelling and important. No Way But This is a challenge to history and a reminder of what unites us.'
Owen Jones, Guardian columnist and author of The Establishment
‘This is an inspiring biography of a really remarkable human being.’
Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream
'Both moving and illuminating ... It is timely that in an era when there are more African-American men in jail or on parole in the United States than there were men in bondage at the height of slavery and when the Black Lives Matter movement is gathering momentum that there is a book to remind us about this astonishing individual and the political climate in which he used his popular voice to highlight systemic inequality.'
'A great book about a fascinating man. Read it and be inspired!'
Srdja Popovic, author of Blueprint for Revolution
'The book gripped me. I read excerpts to The Spouse over breakfast; I neglected the ironing, forgot to water the vegetable patch ... Now that’s a book well worth reading!'
'a splendid account of this fabulous figure ... This is an intriguing life, beautifully realised by a fine writer, and should be widely read and appreciated.'
'An illuminating look at the life of a frankly remarkable man.' FIVE BOOKS YOU NEED TO READ THIS MONTH
Simon Clark, The AU Review