A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman

Title: A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman
Author: Sharon Rudahl
Genre: Biography / graphic novel

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

I feel kind of bad giving this book such a “low” rating, especially since I think it was well done. I liked the art and I know more about Emma Goldman’s life than I did before. So why only 2.5 stars?

I think it has more to do with the format than anything. I’ve read one other graphic biography and encountered the same issues. That one–which about Karl Marx–was even shorter. I realize when you’re condensing a life into about 100 illustrated pages, there is a lot you’re going to have to cover quickly, superficially, or not at all. Still, having big unexplained time jumps from one panel to the next, introducing people who are quickly shunted aside, and inserting single-panel developments leads to a reading experience that, for me, is a bit frustrating. “Hold on, what’s happening? Who is this person? Wait where’d they go??” I thought to myself more than once. I understand that providing more context takes a whole lot more time when you’re also drawing everything, though.

The biggest problem with this book for me is that it doesn’t really cover Emma Goldman’s politics or opinions much at all. Most of my friends identify as anarchists of some stripe, and Emma Goldman comes up from time to time as a sort of historical woman badass. So I wanted to get more information. This book is big on Emma Goldman the woman, and not so big on Emma Goldman the political figure. The problem is, for me, is that I was interested in the latter and most people, I think, would not be interested in her biography if it weren’t for her politics and the history she made due to her politics. So while I learned about Emma’s family relations and many lovers, I felt like I got much less information on her political opinions, which is what I was actually interested in. Some of her positions were covered, don’t get me wrong–but a lot of times, after reading an anecdote or story about her life, I would wonder why I’m supposed to care–why was she considered so dangerous anyway, and why do people a hundred years later still refer to her? What did she do? What did she think?  What did she really care about? Sometimes, reading this, it was hard to tell. Maybe a biography is the wrong place to look for that information. I was also disappointed that there weren’t any notes in the back, no bibliography, no sources or attributions for different events or quotes given, no further reading suggestions–it doesn’t even say if it was based on her autobiography or what. I tend to be suspicious of “nonfiction” that doesn’t credit its sources or offer clarifications.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend this if you are already a fan of Ms. Goldman. If you’re looking for more information about what made her tick, what motivated her, what her thoughts and positions were, either look elsewhere or use this as a starting point and expect that it won’t answer all your questions.


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