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 ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph’s Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century belongs, luminously, to the second ... compelling ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph veer off the map, sometimes with an excess of abandon, in trying to understand the complexities of Dorothy Day ... The authors brilliantly try to make sense of Dorothy’s complicated worldview. They focus on her transition to Catholicism and the questions she must have been forced to ask herself ... Loughery and Randolph do a strong job depicting the urgency and intensity of her thinking, but they also reveal the blind spots that prevented her from seeing her own serious shortcomings, particularly regarding her daughter Tamar, whom she rarely saw and of whom she was extremely critical ... Loughery and Randolph go beyond traditional biography to give us not a singular, cohesive portrait of Dorothy Day but several overlapping and mutually inconsistent ones.
The authors render their subject in precise and meticulous detail, generating a vivid account of her political and religious development. They also include perceptive portraits of her colleagues, lovers and friends ... Day, they suggest....wanted to experience the entire Catholic package, warts and all. But while reading their respectful account, I began to wonder if Day’s religious conservatism might also, perhaps unconsciously, have been politically subversive ... In her wholehearted embrace of the Catholic faith, was Day also attempting an 'othering,' tacitly and subversively suggesting that there were different ways of being a loyal citizen and devout Christian—that the radicalism of a St. Francis, indeed, of Jesus himself, spoke imperatively to the American dilemma?
Politics change like the weather, and this era of falling atmospheric pressure is nicely captured in Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century ... In the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day joked that she wrote down how much money came in and how much money went out but never reconciled the two columns—which is more or less how she lived her life. Unfortunately, it also more or less describes Loughery and Randolph’s biography: a comprehensive, chronological account that never arrives at a meaningful summation of the life it chronicles. It doesn’t go much beyond what has been written before[.]
... masterful ... At a moment when a pandemic is bringing all the failures of unbridled capitalism into stark relief, nothing could be more timely than the biography of a convert to Catholicism who preached that the New Testament 'called on all believers to fight racism, war and poverty or it meant nothing at all' and for whom 'faith was less about solace than a call to action and disruption. Piety and conformity to social norms had little to do with each other' ... The authors’ portrait of bohemian Greenwich Village at its height is one of the book’s first and greatest pleasures ... With this collaboration, both [authors] have done the finest work of their lifetimes.
Loughery and Randolph have...made an important and timely contribution to present debates, as the authors highlight stands Day took that have particular resonance in today’s divided America ... Loughery and Randolph have not written a hagiography. They are critical of Day for privileging her work with the poor over care for her own daughter, and they fault her reluctance to stand up for gay rights as she had for other oppressed minorities. They also question how she could fail to grapple with the costs of pacifism in the face of Hitler’s rise and terror. In citing the polemical headlines she penned in the Catholic Worker at the dawn of World War II, such as 'We Are to Blame for New War in Europe,' the authors intentionally make readers cringe ... We can be grateful to Loughery and Randolph for reviving a voice for our times.
The authors are sympathetic yet clear-eyed in their assessment of Day’s turbulent life and maddening contradictions ... Mr. Loughery and Ms. Randolph are effective scene-setters, but this cinematic portrayal of church life seems rather gauzy. They glance quickly over potentially darker figures that Day later sheltered at her Catholic residences, like priests whose alcoholism or sexual histories 'made them unsuitable for their parishes.' This leads to a significant gap in Day’s life story. The book fails to grapple with her response to the signal catastrophe of the Catholic Church in the 20th century: the clergy sex-abuse scandal. The fault may lie with Day herself, who is known to have destroyed many of her personal papers. It is inconceivable that so prominent a figure in the church for so many of the years in which priests serially abused children knew nothing. What did she do about it? ... This engagingly written biography illuminates a figure who infuriated as many as she inspired.
Dorothy Day led a contradictory, complex life that makes for compelling reading ... phases of Day’s life are cogently presented, notably including the privations of life in the Catholic Worker houses ... Missing is deeper psychological insight into what drove Day towards such a difficult life and what inspired such fierce loyalty among her followers. Too many names of minor characters slow the narrative. Still, this biography will be eagerly devoured by anyone interested in Day and her current prospects for canonization.
... a painstakingly detailed portrait ... Loughery and Randolph skillfully capture the varied atmospheres of Day’s diverse milieus and offer valuable insight into her lifelong intellectual awakening. Readers interested in progressive causes will find inspiration in this granular biography of a 'mesmerizing, demanding, paradoxical woman.'
... a serviceable and largely balanced look at one of America’s most complex and socially influential figures ... Though Loughery and Randolph’s work does not provide the personal depth of Kate Hennessy’s exceptional Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty (2017), they do provide an excellent record of Day’s involvement in the progressive circles of her time ... An intriguing glance at a complex and countercultural personality.