Simply by choosing to write a biography of Josephine Herbst, an almost forgotten American writer (1892-1969), Elinor Langer demonstrates both courage and an eye for an unconventional subject. Women who lead “lesser lives” are not sure bets for full-length biographies. But even though forgotten, Herbst knew everyone and went everywhere. She was a representative figure whose life reflected the experience—particularly the political experience—of a generation. Her itinerary was an archetypal one for the left-wing American intellectual of the 1930s: a poor Midwestern childhood, an education in the Midwest and Far West, New York in the early ’20s, then Berlin in 1922 and Paris, the Soviet Union in 1930, Germany again in 1935, an agricultural commune in Cuba (1935), Spain during the Civil War, Washington, D.C. before and during World War II, and the New York literary
world. Like a moth to a flame, Herbst was drawn, as writer and intellectual, to where history was being made.
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