Part social history, part true-crime investigation, this is a fascinating account of American racism and an expose of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. Tells, for the first time, the story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.
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.
... 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.
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.