Faderman’s exploration of Milk’s dual outsider status as gay and Jewish is equal parts warm and scholarly. It is informed, in part, by her decades of research and writing about LGBT history, including, most recently, her book The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. Her empathy may also come from firsthand experience with the after-effects in those touched by the Holocaust. Faderman’s mother and aunt had escaped Nazi Europe to America; tragically, many others in her family perished in Latvia. Milk, too, had been deeply affected by his memories of the war ... The book follows Milk from those early days, past his time as a closeted, butched-up jock in high school and college, through his period in the Navy, and to his years of ambivalently holding jobs as a math teacher and a Wall Street securities research analyst. Faderman then carries readers buoyantly through Milk’s emerging devotion to social justice and progressive politics as he holds court as a bearded hippie and the self-proclaimed 'Mayor of Castro Street' in his beloved adoptive city of San Francisco.
Harvey Milk was a complex man,' Faderman asserts in this exemplary biography, a volume in Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series. As she points out, Milk tried many 'lives'—she lists a dozen, ranging from teacher to Wall Street securities analyst, from actor to hippie—before he finally found his calling as a politician ... Faderman pulls no punches in her examination of Milk’s often disastrous private life but puts it in the context of the martyred Milk’s undeniable contribution to the evolution of gay liberation. Concise and beautifully written, Harvey Milk is an invaluable addition to LGBTQ literature.
Last April, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to name the main terminal at San Francisco International Airport after Harvey Milk, the gay rights martyr who was assassinated 40 years ago. The decision further (and literally) cements Milk’s legacy as the best-known LGBT activist in American history ... Yet the new biography of Milk by one of the world’s leading historians of LGBT life, Lillian Faderman, suggests that we don’t know him that well at all ... The most interesting section of the book is the first part, which covers the 45 years of Harvey’s life before his brief period of fame in San Francisco. It turns out that he was a lost soul for most of that time ... Faderman does a masterful job of narrating Harvey’s last day, slowing down the pace of the book to a minute-by-minute recap of that fateful morning. She also shows how quickly the legend of Harvey Milk replaced the reality. Which, after all, happens to all martyrs—John F. Kennedy, for example, or even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In death, these figures loom even larger than in life.