Film star. Icon. Agitator. Martyr. Paul Robeson was a brilliant student and champion athlete who abandoned a career in law to find worldwide fame as a performer and activist. He was undoubtedly the most famous African American of his time - before losing everything for the sake of his principles. The son of a former slave, Robeson's life took him to Hollywood via the Harlem Renaissance and London's West End. While he stunned audiences with his performances of 'Ol' Man River' and Othello, he also championed social justice around the world, travelling from the coal-mining towns of Wales, to the frontiers of the Spanish Civil War, and to the Soviet Union. Yet privately Robeson was a troubled figure, burdened by his role as a symbol for the African-American people and an international advocate for the working class. His stratospheric rise would reach its end in the courtroom of the McCarthy hearings. Today, Robeson is largely unknown, his legacy obscured by the forces of history that destroyed him. Jeff Sparrow traces Robeson's career, showing how his remarkable life tells the story of the twentieth century and illuminates today's reality.
From Black Lives Matter to Putin's United Russia, Sparrow explores questions of race in America, political freedom in Moscow, and the legacy of communism in Europe. Part travelogue, part biography, it is a story of political ardour, heritage, and trauma - a luminous portrait of a man and an urgent reflection on the politics that define us now.