Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug

Harvard Univ.. Nov. 2019. 433p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780674737488. $35. BIOG
An emblem of mid-20th-century feminism, Bella Abzug (1920–88) is unforgettable for her dramatic flair in politics, even as she approached her work as a lawyer tenaciously and pragmatically. Most of her political career took place during the 1970s, and while the majority of this book concentrates on those years, Zarnow (history, Univ. of Houston) examines her early legal career and the precedents it set for her future as a feminist politician. What emerges is a compelling portrait of a woman who pursued her goals with a single-minded intensity that is inspiring, perhaps all the more so owing to the focus on Abzug’s home life and marriage, which was equal in a way that is unusual even today. Zarnow states the intention of critiquing Abzug’s politics where they fail from an intersectional point of view, but there is a limited case made for her being overly pragmatic except in the case of her not backing Shirley Chilsom’s presidential run.
VERDICT A fascinating ride through some of the fastest-paced politics of the 1960s with a larger-than-life character and well suited for feminist history readers.
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