The inspiring and timely story of Bella Abzug, a New York politician who brought the passion and ideals of 1960s protest movements to Congress. Abzug promoted feminism, privacy protections, gay rights, and human rights. Her efforts shifted the political center until more conservative forces won back the Democratic Party.
Reading about how the mostly female volunteers steamrollered the traditional New York Democratic machine, feel free to think of [Absug] as a middle-aged, Jewish, Vietnam-era version of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. That would please Zarnow, who sees a whole lot of similarities between our era and the 1970s, when Democratic progressives were going head-to-head against establishment moderates for control of the party’s agenda ... gives rather short shrift to Abzug’s many failings as a boss.
... a tightly focused story ... we should all celebrate the fact that Zarnow rescues her subject from history’s attic, which may be as much as anyone can do. But the book is not perfect. For one thing, Zarnow’s attempt to draw a line between the figure who was 'born yelling'—as Abzug liked to say about herself—and #MeToo and intersectional politics is misleading. The second-wavers’ biggest bête noire was gender equity, not violence against women, which is one of the few things young women talk about now when they talk about feminism. And yet, Zarnow offers such a rich history in Battling Bella that I will forgive her this and other missteps, like the jejune way she often describes things ... The book is a conventional academic volume, arranged along chronological lines ... Zarnow’s flattening out of the second wave’s complications and contentions...makes her book less rich than it could have been ... But Zarnow is defter when she focuses on what Abzug did rather than what she said. And she is right to argue that Abzug’s personal style—storming and shouting in a way that largely doesn’t happen today—helped her legislative aims ... Battling Bella is weak on Abzug’s private life—psychological insight is not Zarnow’s forte nor this volume’s purview ... but ... Perhaps this book will make it harder to forget her.
... a serious political biography, one that’s more narrative than the excellent 2007 volume from Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom and likely appealing to a broader audience than Alan H. Levy’s groundbreaking 2013 book. Extensively researched (the end notes run almost 100 pages) and engagingly written, Battling Bella places Abzug firmly in the context of her time – the contentious politics of the 1970s – as well as positions her as a trailblazer whose brash style anticipated the personality-driven culture of the 21st century ... The sometimes seedy bare-knuckled politics of the time permeate the book, and much to her credit, Zarnow seldom pulls punches; Abzug is presented here with her failings as well as her triumphs ... Ultimately, this approach serves to elevate Abzug; with her big hats and her beaming smile and her short temper and her blunt honesty, she becomes in Zarnow’s handling an intensely admirable flesh-and-blood character. Her personal life is treated in less detail than her political struggles, but this is almost certainly what she herself would have wanted. And Zarnow’s focus on her subject’s central importance never wavers.