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Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford [Hardcover]

Leslie Brody
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2010
Admirers and detractors use the same words to describe Jessica Mitford: subversive, mischief-maker, muckraker. J.K. Rowling calls her her "most influential writer." Those who knew her best simply called her Decca. Born into one of Britain's most famous aristocratic families, she eloped with Winston Churchill's nephew as a teenager. Their marriage severed ties with her privilege, a rupture exacerbated by the life she lead for seventy-eight years.

After arriving in the United States in 1939, Decca became one of the New Deal's most notorious bureaucrats. For her the personal was political, especially as a civil rights activist and journalist. She coined the term frenemies, and as a member of the American Communist Party, she made several, though not among the Cold War witch hunters. When she left the Communist Party in 1958 after fifteen years, she promised to be subversive whenever the opportunity arose. True to her word, late in life she hit her stride as a writer, publishing nine books before her death in 1996.

Yoked to every important event for nearly all of the twentieth century, Decca not only was defined by the history she witnessed, but by bearing witness, helped to define that history.

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Review

Praise for Irrepressible "Defying the odds, Leslie Brody has produced an excellent biography. Brody has made the world a better place by telling [Mitford's] saga so skillfully." --San Francisco Chronicle "With passion, commitment, and a keen sense of adventure--the same qualities that defined her famous subject--Leslie Brody presents Jessica 'Decca' Mitford as the delightfully complicated character she was: aristocrat, Communist, civil rights activist, mother, author, American dreamer. In brisk but sympathetic prose that will resonate even with those totally unfamiliar with Mitford, Brody traces the fascinating evolution of a woman whose life was shaped by the great political forces of her time, yet who always stayed true to herself and her personal vision. Irrepressible is a great, all-encompassing narrative in the age of niche." --Erin Aubry Kaplan, author of I, The People "Such a refreshing biography of Decca! What an inspiration Leslie Brody's calm yet always vivid history should be to young rebellious souls oppressed by the gloomy cul-de-sac into which our national politics have drifted. Here's the story of a true rebel in the finest traditions of upper-class English women who kicked over the traces. Decca's journey took her from Republican Spain to Oakland, California. Brody is never better than when describing the energy and idealism of Communists in those vicious postwar years and Decca's humor and enormous bravery in the face of real physical danger." --Alexander Cockburn

About the Author

Leslie Brody has won the PEN Center USA West prize and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and several awards for her playwriting. She is the author of the memoir Red Star Sister and of A Motel of the Mind. She teaches and lives in Redlands, California. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating character Oct. 17 2011
By Dana TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Confession time - before I was introduced to this book, I had no idea who Jessica Mitford was. Having read the book, I am sad I have spent so long without knowing her. What an interesting, energetic and involved character she was! Leslie Brody has done an amazing job of capturing Jessica (or Decca, as she was called). There is nothing dry or boring about either the woman or the book. This biography is well written, easy to follow and read, and interesting. There are also pictures. I happen to love pictures in biographies. My favorite is at page 214. It is a picture of Decca at age 5 looking defiant, stubborn and immovable - a foreshadowing of the woman she would become.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars forget about this book, get Hons and Rebels, A Fine Old Conflict instead Nov. 28 2011
By m morrissey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a pale summary of what Jessica "Decca" Mitford Rommily Treuhaft provided herself in the way of autobio.

Really .... a waste of money, go for the originals! Far better written, far more engaging.

I very much regretted reading this book after "Hons and Rebels" and before reading "A Fine Old Conflict" as such was the way in which to have its weaknesses utterly shown up. blah!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Welcome Book, Long Overdue Oct. 20 2010
By Jaylia3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Besides her own memoirs, which are limited in scope, we could only catch glimpses of Jessica in earlier books that are more about her sisters. Jessica is fascinating, a droll gadfly and jester who used her wits and endless energy to promote civil rights, uncover corruption and generally help the downtrodden, but even into adulthood latent communist sentiments meant she didn't mind stealing--jiggery pokery she called it--from people or institutions she felt had more than they needed. Reading about her exploits creates an irresistible sort of mental frisson because she was both superbly inspiring and spectacularly thoughtless, even cruel. At nineteen she ran away to Spain with her soon-to-be husband to fight the fascists, which was wonderful for the people and the cause she was able to help, but devastating to her family who had no idea where she was or what had happened to her. Maybe because less has been written about her later life I especially enjoyed the last sections of the book. By that point it was definitely a page turner for me--I couldn't put it down. If you've already read other Mitford books the first chapters may drag a little. POISON PENMANSHIP, a collection of Jessica's muckraking investigative reporting, was reissued this year and if you have both books you can follow along, reading her essays as they are covered in this biography.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written summary Dec 29 2012
By Austenesque - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
There was very little new material material for me, and at times this felt more like an edited version of her life. Brody writes well and the jumble of life events, but particularly Decca`s flight to Spain, are organized well. Seemed well researched. Some aspects of Decca`s life seemed a bit neglected. Halfway through I got a little bored as I'd read much of this in prior Mitford books. Not as in depth as I was hoping for but I did read it with relish as the subject is a fascinating character.
On the whole, this was an enjoyable read, although not as much as reading the actual letters.

WHY DO THEY OMIT THE PHOTOS IN THESE EBOOKS????
My biggest gripe with this book
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book lives up to its subject! Oct. 6 2010
By Alisa S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
...which is a tall order! Jessica Mitford lived in tempestuous times, and did and saw so much; Leslie Brody's book captures the spirit not only of the Spanish Civil War, the early days of the Communist Party in America, and the civil rights struggle, but also Mitford's state of mind and decisions. Why would a fun-loving, principled activist stay in the party during the Stalin era? This book doesn't just explain why, it shows why, without ever preaching or overstating. It also reads like a novel, and isn't afraid to be witty and funny.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment Nov. 22 2010
By Amy F - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had been eagerly anticipating this book for months and find myself sorely disappointed. Too much summarization and glossing over details. Inferior to Mary Lovell's and Anne de Courcy's bios.
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