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No Way But This
in search of Paul Robeson
Biography: arts & entertainment
, Biography: historical, political & military
, 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000
, Social & cultural history
, Slavery & abolition of slavery
, Spanish Civil War
, Political ideologies
, Marxism & Communism
, Civil rights & citizenship
, Political activism
, Individual composers & musicians, specific bands & groups
, Individual actors & performers
Film star. Icon. Agitator. Martyr.
Paul Robeson was a twentieth-century icon; the most famous African-American of his time. The son of a former slave, he found worldwide fame as a performer, travelling from Hollywood to the West End, and even to communist Russia.
A champion of social justice and equality, he would go on to lose everything for the sake of his principles.
Here, Jeff Sparrow traces Robeson's remarkable life. Part travelogue, part biography, this is a story of political ardour, heritage, and trauma - a luminous portrait of a man and an urgent reflection on the politics that define us now.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
`Sparrow's book is a very effective and compelling way of introducing Robeson to readers not so interested in conventional biographies.' -- Tayo Aluko * Morning Star * `Sparrow has made a worthy effort, joining other recent work, including Jordan Goodman's Paul Robeson: A Watched Man and Gerald Horne's Paul Robeson: the Artist as Revolutionary. Each is worth reading.' * Paul Buhle * `[A] pleasing, engaging mix of biography, social history, in-the-footsteps research, and personal reflection ... A lucid, thought-provoking tribute to Robeson by an author determined to stand where Robeson stood and imagine what he thought.' * <i>Kirkus</i> * `[W]ritten with deep admiration for its subject.' -- Nadifa Mohamed * The Guardian * `This passionate biography is testament to a figure who deserves to be better remembered.' * Esquire, The Big Book Awards * `Sparrow's account not only soars, it sings.' * Sight and Sound * `Absolutely wonderful.' -- Simon Callow `An entertaining, informative and important book.' -- Kit de Waal, author of <i>My Name is Leon</i> `The book gripped me. I read excerpts to The Spouse over breakfast; I neglected the ironing, forgot to water the vegetable patch ... Now that's a book well worth reading!' * ANZ LitLovers * `A thoughtful, sensitive and respectful examination of the life and work of Paul Robeson ... More than the biography of one remarkable man, the book is a testament to Robeson's conviction that despite it all, there was no way but to struggle for a better world.' * Green Left Weekly * ` ... a splendid account of this fabulous figure ... This is an intriguing life, beautifully realised by a fine writer, and should be widely read and appreciated.' * The Miner * `Robeson's character, art, principled politics and legacy of extraordinary courage all come vividly to life in No Way But This. There are many worthy books about the life of Paul Robeson, but this is one not to be missed.' * Red Flag * `Sparrow's lively portrait should restore a little of the fame the great man deserves.' * Weekend Herald (Auckland) * `Told sensitively and often movingly by a writer awake to the nuances of the political and social contexts in which Robeson moved, this is a story that reverberates today, full of tragedy but also exhilaration and promise. It is the story we need to hear.' * Overland * `Remarkable ... It revives Robeson as a model of integrity and bravery - someone who, despite the precarity of his social position, risked his life and career for the ideas of workers' rights, black liberation, anti-colonialism and international socialism. As Robeson's story unfolds, the ghosts of past struggles unite with those who fight for political emancipation around the world today. By naming and connecting these diverse groups, Sparrow opens a space for a new public to be formed. Robeson, with his integrity, struggles and flaws, provides a powerful model for the kinds of political action we so desperately need.' * Sydney Review of Books * `Sparrow has eloquently portrayed Robeson as a giant of a man who was prepared to kill off his career for his political beliefs. He emphasises that past struggles should inform today; we need not just inspiration to act but affiliation to organise and solidarity to withstand.' * Morning Star Online * `Book of the week ... [A] conscientious and often painful biography.' * Daily Mail * `An illuminating look at the life of a frankly remarkable man.' FIVE BOOKS YOU NEED TO READ THIS MONTH * The AU Review * `Both moving and illuminating ... It is timely that in an era when there are more African-American men in jail or on parole in the United States than there were men in bondage at the height of slavery and when the Black Lives Matter movement is gathering momentum that there is a book to remind us about this astonishing individual and the political climate in which he used his popular voice to highlight systemic inequality.' * Readings * `A great book about a fascinating man. Read it and be inspired!' -- Srdja Popovic, author of <i>Blueprint for Revolution</i> `Paul Robeson was truly a giant of a man, in physical stature, courage, intellect, and creative endeavour. With this intimate and engaging portrait, we are able to gain an invaluable insight into a major political and artistic talent of the twentieth century. Ours is a time requiring inspiration, affiliation, and solidarity. Paul Robeson surely provides the inspiration we desperately need.' -- Tony Birch, author of <i>Blood</i> and <i>Ghost River</i> `Jeff Sparrow's No Way But This is a major addition to what we know of, and how we may know, this 20th-century giant ... It's impossible to do justice in a brief space to such a life of commitment - or to suggest just what a compelling narrative Sparrow has made of it. He has aptly brought this giant to the attention of later generations.' * Sydney Morning Herald * `Part journalist, part historian, Jeff Sparrow writes with loving discernment about a remarkable man and the forces that shaped his unmistakable voice. [This is] a gripping story of courage and commitment, told by one of our finest chroniclers of the human capacity for tenderness amid the squalor. Sparrow takes us on a global journey, revealing that beyond an old man and a river, there lies a deep valley of hatred and hope, sadness and solidarity.' -- Claire Wright, Stella Prize-winning author of <i>The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka</i> `With sensitive inquisition; fierce curiosity; razor-sharp observation; crisp, engaging prose; and a fondness and respect for his subject that fairly sings, Sparrow once again proves himself one of the finest nonfiction writers we have.' -- Maxine Beneba Clarke, author of <i>The Hate Race</i> `An amazing story I didn't even know I didn't know. Jeff pulls us through the grubby terrain of race, Jesus, prison, and fascism.' -- John Safran, author of <i>Murder in Mississippi</i> `Urgent and compelling ... A mix of essay, journalism, history and biography [that is] engaging, original and insightful ... Fascinating, instructive and full of astute observations on race and politics, No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson will appeal to readers passionate about social justice and the history of 20th-century political movements.' STARRED REVIEW * Books+Publishing * `Jeff Sparrow is the latest biographer to tackle this riveting subject and he ably demonstrates how journalistic method can contribute to historical understanding.' * TLS * `Brilliantly told by Jeff Sparrow, Paul Robeson's story is compelling and important. No Way But This is a challenge to history and a reminder of what unites us.' -- Owen Jones, <i>Guardian</i> columnist and author of <i>The Establishment</i> `This is an inspiring biography of a really remarkable human being.' -- Johann Hari, author of <i>Chasing the Scream</i> `Written with an exhilarating combination of insight and passion ... A necessary book. A social movement that calls itself "Black Lives Matter" exists because those lives are being treated as if they don't. Sparrow knows that when he writes of the past, "If you believed in nothing, you'd fall for anything", he is also writing about now.' * Anna Funder, author of <i>Stasiland</i> * `In a chronologically methodical and delightfully insightful approach that might best be described as "bio-tourism", Australian author, journalist, and broadcaster Sparrow tells the story of preternaturally gifted Paul Robeson ... [A]n excellent and perhaps timely reboot of Robeson's singularly incredible life, especially as its trajectory now intersects with contemporary racial issues.' * Library Journal * `Sparrow shows how this admittedly splendid actor, this marvelous singer, this charismatic speaker, had somehow evolved into something more: he had for many people become the embodiment of the global longing for a better world, a juster dispensation ... Sparrow has made perfect and haunting sense of him.' * New York Review of Books *