I settled in, expecting to read a story that punctured Reagan’s indelible stereotype. Surely, the 'woman in Chicago' would turn out to be an honorable, hard worker who had been unfairly maligned and chewed up in the maw of presidential politics. Nope. Levin’s book is much stranger than that because here’s the thing: Linda Taylor actually was a scam artist who cheated the system quite prolifically and without the slightest compunction ... Another author would have used the 'welfare queen' as a jumping-off point to explore stereotypes, welfare politics and political rhetoric. Levin addresses all that, but his real goal is to put a face to Reagan’s bogeywoman, tracking every alias, every scam, every duped husband and every dodged arrest. He presents Linda Taylor not as a parable for anything grand, but as a singular American scoundrel who represented nothing but herself ... Part of the fun of Levin’s book is burrowing inside his obsessive quest ... Her crimes are so sprawling and confusing that at times she seems almost like a Keyser Söze master villain ... Through dogged reporting, Levin succeeds in building a timeline of her life, but she remains tantalizingly out of grasp, always one step ahead of our detective reporter who is left shuffling receipts from the wastebasket and scanning the horizon for her shadow.
His book outlines at length how Taylor committed a considerable amount of welfare fraud but emphasizes it was probably among the least of her crimes ... Levin’s work succeeds at untangling a complex life, both the actual facts of it — no easy task for a woman with dozens of aliases — and what she ultimately came to represent. The book’s narrative is highly readable ... While Levin explains the difficult circumstances Taylor faced as a child and within her own family as a result of the circumstances of her birth, he is clear-eyed about her numerous crimes ... He doesn’t attempt to make Taylor a sympathetic figure.
... reads like a detective story. Yet it serves up serious and timely questions about the way stereotypes can overpower evidence in shaping policy. It examines how political mythmaking left poor families without needed aid and contributed to a shocking increase in the number of U.S. children growing up in deep poverty — a lesson with profound resonance today ... Levin makes a provocative, if not conclusive, case that Taylor, who died in 2002, was guilty not just of welfare fraud but also of homicide, kidnapping and baby trafficking ... Levin’s brilliant exploration of the politics of welfare reform teaches an essential lesson ... Levin’s story calls upon us to think harder.
The verve and humor of Levin’s writing mirrors the brazenness of the crimes Taylor committed under various false identities ... You can feel Levin’s respect for Taylor’s daring ... Taylor is like a one-person, low-rent Ocean’s 11, and you can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity with which she kept it up for decades. Neither can Levin, who ends virtually every chapter with a cliffhanger, tantalizing us with clues to Taylor’s next big scam ... Levin makes sure that her story is heard and that we know its tragedy, which is that Linda Taylor was doomed from the moment she was born.
Levin tells this story with a forceful combination of empathy and rigor ... Levin never psychoanalyzes his subject, but his reporting is more than enough to demonstrate how a life defined by rejection, suspicion, and stereotype turned Taylor into a con artist ... The Queen is a moving effort to redeem both women’s humanity, and a powerful reminder to ask what stories lie behind the ones that catch the public eye.
Through incredibly involved reporting that clearly required not only a slew of interviews but a vast swath of documents that had to be cross-referenced and compared in order to figure out the timeline and the many names—including alternate spellings—that Taylor used, 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, and though there is so much material in the book that it sometimes seems to lose the plot, Levin succeeds in always drawing readers back to his main subjects: systemic oppression, the rhetoric that feeds it, and how Taylor fits into both ... The Queen isn't about trying to exonerate Taylor—it's an attempt to put her in the proper context. She learned early that race marked her ... Taylor was a lifelong criminal, yes, and she was also the product of racism that shamed her from birth.
Josh Levin’s The Queen isn’t what it first presents itself to be. Fitting because the 'Queen,' the title references, wasn’t either ... Levin demonstrates that Taylor’s infamous — and distorted — public reputation was the least of her infractions. He spent six years tailing ghosts, chasing thin leads, researching and interviewing sources who’d encountered Taylor and those who were left behind in her wreckage. Much of it is horrifying ... Levin’s reporting is exhaustive — a study of welfare reform, a deep dive into FBI files and old court transcripts. It’s here that the book begins to take an unexpected series of turns — both opening up and stepping back. Levin shows his meticulous backstory work, and sometimes those extended contextual passages take us out of the spell he’s cast; that taut narrative becomes, in places, overwhelmed with backstory. But Levin keeps trained on Taylor — even in the most uncomfortable, reprehensible moments of her story. Know this: The Queen is not a tale of redemption.
While the stereotype of the welfare queen still remains, few know its origins. This is a highly recommended, fascinating examination of a prolific con artist, who by the end of her life may not have been able to distinguish between reality and her own lies.
It’s a wild story. But that’s not the only story Levin tells here. With careful sleuthing, he tracks Taylor back to Tennessee in 1926 ... Themes of rejection, racial confusion and possible mental illness create a strong undercurrent beneath this fascinating story. Much is murky about Linda Taylor’s life. But one thing is certain: She wasn’t a stereotype. She was one of a kind.
Even if this publication were fiction, it would be an eye-opener ... As the author is a journalist, he has done extensive research in government archives and collections as well as interviewing those who had any knowledge or contact with his subject. As he is a journalist, the notes are not traditional and are tied to expressions and other references in the text ... The photographic section shows how the subject was able to cloak herself as different people and races over her lifetime career of crime.
The book is part biography, part true-crime saga, and part sociological study of how race, class, and media collide ... raises thorny questions about victimhood ... Taylor’s Southern roots offer Levin a convenient segue into that region’s economic history, which is also the de facto history of welfare and its racist stigma.
The strength of The Queen lies in Levin’s meticulous scouring of the historical record to paint a picture of a woman who was infuriatingly difficult to pin down during her lifetime, resurrecting a biography of the person who would become the welfare queen. By examining her reality, we can finally question the very concept of a welfare queen and deconstruct a myth spun out of selective details ... Although Levin aims to locate the real Linda Taylor in this history, Taylor as a real-life human being is absent from much of Levin’s book. Until the eleventh chapter, most of what we learn about her—beyond her recorded misdeeds—is what she looked like...In the meantime, we get in-depth looks at the lives, thoughts, and motivations of the various white men surrounding her ... Levin’s book should warn against the use of false stereotypes about the poor, black people, and mothers. Linda Taylor was real and very complicated. The welfare queen never was.
... a stunning account ... powerful ... Levin’s treatment goes far beyond true crime here, though that aspect is an immense story itself ... Beyond the story of Taylor’s wrongdoing, though, Levin demonstrates how a single distortion can ruin lives ... Levin does a terrific job of balancing his portrait of a criminal, of the racism of police who didn’t bother to solve the three murders connected to Taylor, and of the widespread stereotyping of Blacks that grew out of her crimes and a president’s distortions.
Levin nimbly explores Taylor’s life in a story that becomes more complex the more it’s revealed ... As the author shows in this excellent piece of true-crime writing, Taylor’s case is entirely rare, but the potent political symbolism it inspired certainly did no favors to those who truly needed welfare assistance in the years since ... In the end, a politician’s reductive sloganeering finds some support here but is ultimately found wanting. A top-notch study of an exceedingly odd moment in history.
... [an] impressive debut ... Levin makes the complex narrative accessible by using an indefatigable Chicago police detective, Jack Sherwin, as his initial protagonist ... Levin’s piecing together of interviews, court documents, and other records paint as complete a picture as possible of an unrepentant career criminal who was turned into a stereotype for political purposes. Those interested in U.S. urban culture of another era will also be intrigued.