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Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the Twentieth Century
By John Loughery & Blythe Randolph
“A good biography holds your attention; a great one transcends its subject and sheds light on the myriad forces bearing down on an individual at a particular point in time. Dorothy Day belongs, luminously, to the second (category).” -Los Angeles Review of Books
Throughout American history, there has been a considerable number of women of vision who made a mark on the modern world and raised important questions about power, equality, economics and social justice. Many of these women – e.g. Margaret Fuller, Jane Addams, Ida B. Well, Margaret Sanger, Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson – have been the subjects of new and fresh biographies in recent years. Dorothy Day (1897-1980) is a more difficult figure to encompass.
A convert to Catholicism in her twenties, Day was the cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement, a group of autonomous communities across the country (numbering over a hundred today) that provide food and shelter to the homeless and a platform from which to remind Americans that the American Dream has not been an attainable reality for all its citizens. However, Day was more than the sum of her charitable endeavors. She was also a woman of uncompromising political agenda.
Born on the eve of the Spanish-American War, she lived to see the rise of Ronald Reagan and her country’s role as a world power with a nuclear arsenal of apocalyptic potential. Coming of age when the reach of the Catholic Church and its social acceptance in the United States was at its height, she lived to see American Catholics turn from their faith in the 1970s in daunting numbers. Both were troubling developments to a woman who was for almost fifty years a great anomaly in American life: an orthodox Catholic and a political radical, a rebel who courted controversy, challenged three generations of young admirers, and willingly went to jail for her beliefs.
This definitive biography of Day encompasses the passion and paradox of her life as well as revealing the great changes that were sweeping through the United States during much of the twentieth century. Paul Baumann, past editor of Commonweal, wrote: “Dorothy Day was a passionate, stubborn, and iconoclastic woman, and she lived one of the most fascinating, perplexing, and humbling lives of any American in the last century….. In fundamental and prophetic ways, Day anticipated the current dismaying trajectory of American politics and culture. This is essential reading for our times.”
John Loughery is the author of four previous books, two of which were New York Times Notable Books. His biography of John Sloan was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography. He lives in New York.
Blythe Randolph is the author of biographies of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.