Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman

Regular price $ 21.50

by Paul Avrich and Karen Avrich

Belknap Press

11/24/2014, paperback

SKU: 9780674416734


In 1889 two Russian immigrants, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, met in a coffee shop on the Lower East Side. Over the next fifty years Emma and Sasha would be fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers an unprecedented glimpse into their intertwined lives, the lasting influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice.

Berkman shocked the country in 1892 with "the first terrorist act in America," the failed assassination of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick for his crimes against workers. Passionate and pitiless, gloomy yet gentle, Berkman remained Goldman's closest confidant though the two were often separated-by his fourteen-year imprisonment and by Emma's growing fame as the champion of a multitude of causes, from sexual liberation to freedom of speech. The blazing sun to Sasha's morose moon, Emma became known as "the most dangerous woman in America." Through an attempted prison breakout, multiple bombing plots, and a dramatic deportation from America, these two unrelenting activists insisted on the improbable ideal of a socially just, self-governing utopia, a vision that has shaped movements across the past century, most recently Occupy Wall Street.

"Sasha and Emma" is the culminating work of acclaimed historian of anarchism Paul Avrich. Before his death, Avrich asked his daughter to complete his magnum opus. The resulting collaboration, epic in scope, intimate in detail, examines the possibilities and perils of political faith and protest, through a pair who both terrified and dazzled the world.


Riveting... Sasha and Emma joins a number of other recent dual biographies, including those on Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Leo and Sophia Tolstoy, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is compelling to read about one life as counterpoint, irritant and inspiration to another, and to trace the meanderings of love and friendship over a lifetime. This dialogic form--understanding one life in terms of another--offers a robust and vibrant way to read about the lives of others. Along the way, two stories become one... The story of Berkman and Goldman cries out to be a screenplay. The narrative is dramatic... This book's minute-by-minute account of Berkman's decision to assassinate [Henry Clay] Frick is pure cinema.--Robin Feuer Miller "Times Higher Education"

An account, at once densely detailed and lively, that traces the pair from their births in what is now Lithuania to their deaths in exile in the shadow of World War II. With generous contemporary accounts and Paul Avrich's interviews with anarchists and their children, as well as Berkman's and Goldman's extensive writings, the book draws readers into the lives of its characters... For a modern reader, Sasha and Emma contains many surprises... Sasha and Emma is an enormously rich book, offering an absorbing portrait of the world of anarchists in turn-of-the-century America and of the loving yet competitive partnership at its center.--Elsa Dixler "New York Times Book Review"

About the Contributors:

Paul Avrich was Professor of History at Queens College.

Karen Avrich is a writer and editor.