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Table of Contents

A Note on UsageIntroductionPart I: BeginningsPart II: Becoming an AmericanPart III: Becoming an American RadicalPart IV: In the Eye of the StormThanksPhotograph gallery

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A beautifully written, dramatic memoir from one of women's history's founders

About the Author

Gerda Lerner, a past president of the Organization of American Historians, is Robinson-Edwards Professor of History, Emerita, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her eleven books in history include Creation of Patriarchy, Creation of Feminist Consciousness, Why History Matters, and Black Women in White America: A Documentary History.


Past president of the Organization of American Historians and the author of numerous books of history and essays (e.g., Why History Matters), Lerner has produced a grand and beautiful work, well organized and written in clean, lovely prose. Her aim is to examine the life she led prior to her pioneering achievements as a distinguished academic in the field of women's history, a career she entered only after age 40 and years of activism and writing. Born in 1920 into a comfortable Jewish family in Vienna, Lerner was sheltered until 1938, when Germany occupied Austria. With scrupulous scholarship and deep humanity, Lerner details her life as a helpless outsider including her imprisonment and exploitation as a stateless refugee as well as her family relationships and intellectual development. Her accounts of Austria's spontaneous anti-Semitism, her "tiny gestures of defiance," and the loving community she found among feminist scholars and activists are all fascinating; many readers will be particularly intrigued by her description of Hollywood during the blacklist, which deeply affected her film director husband. In a world where accuracy and emotional honesty are often deplorably absent, Fireweed is a rare and valuable contribution. Recommended for all libraries. Elaine Machleder, Bronx, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"It is an extraordinary work, the deeply personal account revealing and unfolding both women's history and the political history of Europe and the United States in critical times...Please read this exquisite book and pass it along to others as widely as you can." Science and Society "In this rich autobiography, Gerda Lerner, the esteemed historian and pioneer of women's studies known for her path-breaking work on women who fought against patriarchy, racism, and bigotry, explores her own personal struggle against oppression - through recounting her life, she shows us that even in the face of destruction, the human spirit, like the fireweed, can rise up in all its glory." History of Education Quarterly "Gerda Lerner's absorbing memoir bears witness to the major events of the twentieth century...[She] is a gifted storyteller who writes with passion and clarity. This political autobiography is a must read!" --Joyce Antler, Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture, Brandeis University "A spirited, eminently readable and unapologetic memoir of leftist life in a rightist era...[L]eaving readers hungry for more[,] Lerner's autobiography also makes a fine contribution to social history." --Kirkus Reviews "Fireweed is made out of courage and wisdom. One of the finest historians of our time has written an eloquent memoir that makes clear how Women's History has grown out of lived experience. Read it as a story of a girl coming of age in dark times; read it as a story of a brave young woman who lives her progressive ideals in cold war America. I simply could not put down this loving, chilling and heartbreaking book." --Linda K. Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor of History, University of Iowa and author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship "Gerda Lerner, a leading pioneer in Women's History...presents an especially vivid account of the connections between her ambivalent but loving relations with her parents...and her own escape from fascism and quest for both autonomy and a professional career." --Professor David Brion Davis, Director, Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and author of In the Image of God: Religion, Moral Values, and Our Heritage of Slavery "[A] superb memoir... Lerner's power and precision as a writer makes this story read like a fast-paced novel." --Linda Gordon, Professor of History, NYU "Most people become historians by going to school day and night for years. Gerda Lerner became a historian by working in her youth in social justice and women's rights movements that became history. Then, in middle age, she went to school day and night--finally becoming one of our preeminent writers and teachers of Women's History. Fireweed is a wonderful and inspiring story for young women." --Grace Paley "[Fireweed] reads like a novel..." --The New York Times Book Review "As a work of prose, this autobiography has a peculiar beauty. Some of the lines are magical... Perhaps the most striking aspect of Gerda Lerner's memoir, as of her many other publications, is the lucidity of her vision... But, like the eloquent Simone de Beauvoir, who also told her own life, she has made it difficult for any would-be biographer to do better." --The Women's Review of Books "Now in her 80s, Lerner looks back not on the years of prominence but on those early decades that shaped her thought and made her life's work possible... [C]ertain to find a deserved place in every collection of indispensable works of women's history." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Lerner has produced a grand and beautiful work, well organized in clean, lovely prose...With scrupulous scholarship and deep humanity, Lerner details her life as a helpless outsider--as well as her family relations and intellectual development... In a world where accuracy and emotional honesty are often deplorably absent, Fireweed is a rare and valuable contribution." --Library Journal (starred review) "Lerner, a leading scholar in women's history, dissects her personal history in this absorbing autobiography...A fascinating memoir." --Booklist "The wellsprings of Lerner's pioneering scholarship in women's studies are illuminated by her life experiences as related in often astonishingly candid passages. ...This distinctive volume is valuable not only for readers interested in how experience shapes a leading historian, but for its reminder that individuals who want to believe in a certain social or political system often ignore or brush aside inconvenient facts that do not fit their ideal." --Choice "[a] stunning political autobiography...it should appeal to a wide readership...Gerda Lerner's life story is astonishing in its forthrightness, breathtaking in its narrative and, like the fireweed itself, simply dazzling." --NWSA Journal

Lerner has enjoyed a brilliant academic career, a pioneer who virtually created her own discipline women's history and wrote some of the central texts in the field (such as The Creation of Patriarchy). But she came to scholarship quite late; she was over 40 when she earned her bachelor's degree. Before that she was a refugee, a divorce, the mother of two children, a political activist and a member of the Communist Party. Now in her early 80s, Lerner looks back not on the years of prominence but on those early decades that shaped her thought and made her life's work possible. Born into a well-to-do Viennese Jewish family, she was imprisoned by the Nazis after the anschluss, narrowly escaping to America and leaving her family behind. Her immediate family survived the Holocaust, but Lerner was never again to see her mother, who died in Europe of multiple sclerosis. The story of her mother's amazing flowering as an artist and tragic death is the emotional heart of the book; its intellectual core is Lerner's account of her political life in the United States. Unlike many ex-Communists who recount their past with guilt and shame, Lerner maintains that, despite the compromises and blindness of those years, the party spoke to what was best in her nature her commitment to social justice and racial equality. The hot-pink blossoms of the fireweed, which can only bloom on burnt-over ground, provide an apt metaphor for this memoir, one certain to find a deserved place in every collection of indispensable works of women's history. 24 b&w illus. (May) Forecast: This will be reviewed, especially in academic and women's studies periodicals. Students of women's history and movements of social justice will look for this. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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