... is billed as a collection of essays from the past four decades, but the Ehrenreich in these pages will be mostly familiar to the million-plus readers of Nickel and Dimed, which began as an article for Harper’s Magazine that is reprinted here ... shows how Ehrenreich’s sincere activist efforts have always contained a vein of dark wit ... There’s a consistent tone to all of the essays: tough and acerbic, crusty to the point of imperturbable ... the Ehrenreich of this collection is Ehrenreich the activist, the author of startlingly prescient essays and scabrous op-eds. She was writing about the splintering middle class during the self-congratulatory Reagan years, and about problems of trickle-down feminism long before well-heeled women were exhorted to lean in. These pieces weren’t the place for her to parse any ambivalence. After all, she had a job to do.
Taking her early 1980s writing as its starting point, Ehrenreich’s Had I Known, published March 2020 by Twelve Books, draws upon her considerable register of previously published work and places these writings in fresh orbit ... Through all of them, though, there runs the red thread of her lived experience as a feminist and working-class stalwart. Thoughtfully selected and arranged, the chronological staggering of the texts in this volume underscores parallels across Ehrenreich’s more than three decades as a public intellectual and political commentator. At times the effect is sobering, reminding us just how far our social movements still have to go. At others, it is galvanizing, a testimony to the deep roots of movements for social change. In either case, the assembly unearths a novel, comparative viewpoint on her writing that foregrounds her political and literary development over the years ... Ehrenreich writes unsparingly of the recent failures of American unions to forestall the tide of advancing corporate greed—and throughout the entries in this volume, she reprises her call to the barricades.
From the wage gap and exploitation of workers to gender inequality and second-wave feminism, Ehrenreich digs deep in her investigations into the topics that capture the collective fancy as well as those that rarely register in the social consciousness ... It’s a one-stop shop for fans of Ehrenreich’s gimlet eye and informed outrage. Whether talking about welfare reform during the 2008 recession or the helplessness that threatens to burgeon into a mental health crisis, Ehrenreich brings a passion and practicality to her discourse. There is a sense that Ehrenreich is always in receptor mode, that cogent analysis is her default setting. A rewarding, illuminating tour de force.