Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought

Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought

Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought

Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought

Synopsis

Sociologist, social critic, and political radical C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) was one of the leading public intellectuals in twentieth century America. Offering an important new understanding of Mills and the times in which he lived, Radical Ambition challenges the captivating caricature that has prevailed of him as a lone rebel critic of 1950s complacency. Instead, it places Mills within broader trends in American politics, thought, and culture. Indeed, Daniel Geary reveals that Mills shared key assumptions about American society even with those liberal intellectuals who were his primary opponents. The book also sets Mills firmly within the history of American sociology and traces his political trajectory from committed supporter of the Old Left labor movement to influential herald of an international New Left. More than just a biography, Radical Ambition illuminates the career of a brilliant thinker whose life and works illustrate both the promise and the dilemmas of left-wing social thought in the United States.

Excerpt

The sociologist, social critic, and political radical Charles Wright Mills (1916–1962) did not fit the 1950s stereotype of the “egghead” intellectual. Famous for riding a motorcycle, he dressed in boots and a leather jacket at a time when academic protocol dictated more formal attire. Over six feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds, he had an imposing physical presence. He was good with his hands as well as with his brain: he knew how to fix his motorcycle, he helped build two of his houses, and he chastised friends for not baking their own bread. He spoke with a noticeable Texan twang and could regale his New York acquaintances with tales of his grandfather, a rancher who had been shot to death. And, of course, he wrote a series of books—most notably White Collar, The Power Elite, and The Sociological Imagination— that broke with the postwar liberal consensus by offering sharp, radical analyses of American politics and society. These writings became influential in large part because of the authentic critical voice of their author, whose very name proclaimed that he was one who could “see right.” They would have a particularly significant impact on New Left social movements of the 1960s era.

C. Wright Mills was one of the most fascinating personalities in recent American intellectual history. However, a full understanding of his ideas and their historical significance has been obscured by a captivating caricature of him as a motorcycle-riding maverick, a lone dissident from the conservative complacency of the cold war era. Scholars . . .

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