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Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia


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About the Author

Nick Thorkelson is a cartoonist living in Boston. He has done cartoons on local politics for The Boston Globe and in support of organizations working on economic justice, peace, and public health. He is the co-author and/or illustrator of The Earth Belongs to the People, The Underhanded History of the USA, The Legal Rights of Union Stewards, The Comic Strip of Neoliberalism, and Economic Meltdown Funnies, and has contributed to a number of nonfiction comics anthologies. He is working on a graphic novel about the end of the Sixties, A Better World Is Possible. Nick also moonlights as a musician, animator, graphic designer, and painter. Paul Buhle, a journal publisher in the New Left and publisher of one of the first Underground Comix, has written or edited many volumes including the biographies of C.L.R. James, William Appleman Willliams and Harvey Kurtzman, returned to comic art with a dozen volumes since 2005 including The Beats, among other subjects. His works, including comics, have been published in more than a dozen languages. He taught at Brown University until retirement. Andrew T. Lamas teaches urban studies and critical theory at the University of Pennsylvania, is co-editor of The Great Refusal: Herbert Marcuse and Contemporary Social Movements (Temple University Press, 2017), and serves on the boards of the International Herbert Marcuse Society, the Radical Philosophy Review, and the Bread and Roses Community Fund. Angela Y. Davis is the Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California-Santa Cruz. A former student of Herbert Marcuse, she is the author of many books and articles, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974), Women, Race and Class (1981), Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (1998), Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture (2005), The Meaning of Freedom and other Difficult Dialogues (2012), and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2016). She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, which is dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. She is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012).


"Marcuse believed in a life of play and joy, and Thorkelson's somewhat cartoonish style befits this aspect despite the serious nature of the topic. Panels are rich in visual allusions, ranging from George Herriman's Krazy & Ignatz comics to Eugene Delacroix's painting Liberty Leading the People. Thorkelson further draws parallels with present-day left-wing concerns, enhancing the overall appeal for like-minded readers, assuming some familiarity with the personalities and philosophies of the intellectual left from the 1930s to the 1980s.For fans of graphic biographies, 20th-century philosophy, historical leftist ideology, and current radical political movements.-Library Journal "Thorkelson's thoroughly researched biography focuses on the ideas that made Marcuse a firebrand ... it concisely sums up the antiestablishment leftist's complex and evolving arguments on power, patriarchy, and human possibility ... Thorkelson's art, reminiscent of Larry Gopnick's Cartoon History series, spices up panels with visual gags and broad caricatures. ... a useful summary of Marcuse's thinking ..."-Publishers Weekly "Nick Thorkelson tackles the formidable task of distilling the life and work of a respected modern philosopher into a well-paced graphic biography in Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia ... serves as an excellent summary of Marcuse's ideas and his lasting influence."-Foreword Reviews "This graphic biography serves as both a chronicle of [Marcuse's] eventful, peripatetic life and an introduction to his philosophical works and political theories ... thanks to Thorkelson's sprightly, cartoonish drawings and slightly irreverent approach."-Booklist "Nick Thorkelson has crafted quite an engaging book based on the life and work of one of the great philosophers of the modern era, Herbert Marcuse. ... With a sense of great timing, Nick Thorkelson brings to the reader an essential and inspiring guide to one of our great thinkers. On each page, from one panel to the next, Mr. Thorkelson has condensed various bits of information into a seamless presentation that is easy on the eyes, both engaging and highly informative. The whole book is a delight as it is clearly organized and designed with a keen sense of style. Thorkelson's cartoons are highly sophisticated and such a pleasure to behold in their own right. You can say that the artwork expresses the Marcuse joie de vivre quite fittingly."-Comics Grinder "Boston-based cartoonist Thorkelson delivers a keen biography of thinker Herbert Marcuse. A German Jew coming of age in the turbulent times after World War I, Marcuse rubs elbows with everyone from Heidegger to Horkheimer before finding relative safety in the U.S. There, he plugs into the social movements of the '60s and pens the influential One Dimensional Man, a scathing critique of consumerism. A smart accessible primer on a fascinating mind that never ceased to challenge the present 'with its own alternative possibilities.'"-Broken Pencil "This new graphic biography may herald a Marcuse revival. ... Its pictorial character is appealing to younger readers, and its biographical accuracy, philosophical sophistication, historical acuity, and incisive observations and commentary about Marcuse's social and political analyses make the volume equally attractive to scholars and educated laypersons. ... Nick Thorkelson's drawings add enormously to this narrative. He is a longtime graphic artist with a distinguished record of illustration, especially on radical and labor topics. He shows how effectively this medium can convey complex ideas in a thoroughly intriguing way."-Truthdig "Nick Thorkelson's Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography fills the bill wonderfully. Edited by Paul Buhle and Andrew T. Lamas, who are themselves scholars and activists in the Marcuse tradition, Thorkelson's biography elegantly combines a basic life story of Marcuse from his childhood in Berlin to his death in 1979 with an informative summary of his ideas, his major works and his influence over others along the way. Thorkelson's artistic style reveals a tendency toward the playful, with plenty of simple, even caricature-like drawings one might expect to see in an editorial cartoon, mixed with detailed tableaux that can heighten and give greater force to the text accompanying the imagery. Between direct quotes, references to pop music lyrics or protest songs, and even personal interviews with friends and family of Marcuse, Thorkelson-who at times even appears in the text himself, adding a touch of metafiction and personality to the whole affair-manages to produce a portrait of a man in full, the writer as well as teacher, husband, activist and 'reluctant guru'. The result is an engaging narrative that can be enjoyed by readers who know nothing of Marcuse and longtime Marcuse scholars alike."-Marx & Philosophy Review of Books "A warm, funny, richly detailed biography. Thorkelson has found a powerful graphic style and narrative voice that animate Marcuse's life and his theory of rebellion. As both personal saga and primer on radical political philosophy, it could not be more relevant to today's resistance movement."-Dan Wasserman, editorial cartoonist for The Boston Globe "Thorkelson's graphic life of Herbert Marcuse is a riotous romp through 20th-century philosophy. The story of a man who exists at the eye of storm of ideas, of movements and of social strategies. With workers and students on the streets of Paris once more, Marcuse's life and work has never been more relevant."-Kate Evans, author of Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography "A delightful graphic novel about a social theorist who deeply influenced my generation. In contrast to much other writing about Marcuse, this is told from the perspective of social movements--a New Left that he embraced, supported and theorized."-Linda Gordon, historian and co-author of Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women's Movements "Nick Thorkelson's graphic biography of Herbert Marcuse confirms my belief that our medium can convey the most complex ideas while being witty and entertaining at the same time. I learned a lot about the history of ideas, making sense of the current crisis of end-stage capitalism. As always, Nick's limber, jazzy drawings create a wide range of settings, personalities and events. His caricatures are spot on, and I especially appreciated the no-holds-barred contemporary reference."-Sharon Rudahl, author of A Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman "Philosopher of Utopia is art on the attack! A perfect celebration of this unique public intellectual done through a fusion of skill and imagination, Thorkelson's book provides access to the genius and the grit of this master of the dialectic."-Lowell Bergman, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Distinguished Chair in Investigative Reporting at UC Berkeley "In the age of Trump, an updated version of fascism is back, memory has become a burden, and the notion of a comprehensive politics in the age of single issues appears obsolete, if not quaint. All the more reason to read Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia. Marcuse not only connected the dots among various problems, theories, and intellectual fields, he infused them with a sense of passion, rigorousness and hope. Marcuse was a philosopher who pushed ideas into the social realm, was fearless in his critique of capitalism, and joyous in his belief that collective struggles in the service of a radical democracy were a necessity rather than an option. His ideas are arguably more relevant than they were fifty years ago because the threats to humankind are more dangerous today. Marcuse's energizing sense of critique, hope, politics, and Utopian vision are more necessary than ever, especially for the emerging generations of young activists."-Henry A. Giroux, author of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism

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