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The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford

List Price: $18.95

September 20, 2011 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 416 Pages | ISBN 9781582437675
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“Brisk, engaging.” —Wall Street Journal

Admirers and detractors use the same words to describe Jessica Mitford: subversive, muckraker, mischief-maker. But those who knew her best simply called her Decca. Born into one of Britain’s most famous aristocratic families, at the age of nineteen she ran away with Winston Churchill’s nephew. Their elopement severed ties with her privilege, a rupture only exacerbated by the controversial life she would go on to lead for seventy-eight years.

Decca arrived in the United States in 1939, and before long became one of the New Deal’s most notorious bureaucrats. She went on to work as a civil rights activist and an investigative journalist championing the underdog. She coined the term frenemies, and as a member of the American Communist Party for fifteen years, she made several, though not among the Cold War witch hunters. In 1958, when she finally left the Party, she did so with no hard feelings, declaring herself an ex-red menace and promising to be subversive whenever the opportunity arose. Staying true to her word, late in life she hit her stride as a writer, publishing nine books—including Hons and Rebels, The American Way of Death, and A Fine Old Conflict—before her death in 1996.

Yoked to every important event for nearly all of the twentieth century, Decca not only was defined by the history she witnessed, but by bearing witness helped to define that history.

LESLIE BRODY won the PEN Center USA West Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and several awards for her playwriting. She is the author of the memoir Red Star Sister and of A Motel of the Mind. She teaches and lives in Redlands, California.


“Defying the odds, Leslie Brody has produced an excellent biography. Brody has made the world a better place by telling [Mitford’s] saga so skillfully.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brisk, engaging.” —Wall Street Journal

“Journalist and limousine-radical [Jessica Mitford] gets her due in this breezy and thoroughly researched biography.” —Publishers Weekly

“Brody gives full access to Mitford’s story.. A valuable retelling of a provocative life.” —Kirkus

“With passion, commitment, and a keen sense of adventure—the same qualities that defined her famous subject—Leslie Brody presents Jessica ‘Decca’ Mitford as the delightfully complicated character she was: aristocrat, Communist, civil rights activist, mother, author, American dreamer. In brisk but sympathetic prose that will resonate even with those totally unfamiliar with Mitford, Brody traces the fascinating evolution of a woman whose life was shaped by the great political forces of her time, yet who always stayed true to herself and her personal vision. Irrepressible is a great, all-encompassing narrative in the age of niche.” —Erin Aubry Kaplan, author of I, The People

“Such a refreshing biography of Decca! What an inspiration Leslie Brody’s calm yet always vivid history should be to young rebellious souls oppressed by the gloomy cul-de-sac into which our national politics have drifted. Here’s the story of a true rebel in the finest traditions of upper-class English women who kicked over the traces. Decca’s journey took her from Republican Spain to Oakland, California. Brody is never better than when describing the energy and idealism of Communists in those vicious postwar years and Decca’s humor and enormous bravery in the face of real physical danger.” —Alexander Cockburn, author of Whiteout

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