by Josh Levin
Back Bay Books
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography
On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship -- after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody -- not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan -- seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of the color of her skin. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin's mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism, and an exposé of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day.
The Queen tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name. "In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation's conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals in this "invaluable work of nonfiction," the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are (David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon).
"In his great work of investigation, Levin, who is editorial director of Slate, uncovers this [welfare queen] creation myth and argues that it hardened into a stereotype deployed to chip away at benefits for the poor. Levin has written a fascinating tale of how the myth was constructed, but he has also dug deeply into Taylor's story, revealing her as to be a grifter, a thief, and possibly a murderer - a woman who was victimized, but who also victimized those more vulnerable than she."-- National Book Review
"Levin has managed to bring the human being out from under the stereotype. He does so in clear, concise writing that refrains from overwrought editorializing...Levin succeeds in always drawing readers back to his main subjects: systemic oppression, the rhetoric that feeds it, and how Taylor fits into both."-- Ilana Masad, NPR.org
About the Author:
Josh Levin is the national editor at Slate and the host of the sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. He previously worked at the Washington City Paperand has written for Sports Illustrated, the Atlantic, GQ, and Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine. He was born and raised in New Orleans and is a graduate of Brown University. He lives in Washington, D.C.