• 408 pages
  • 7 x 10
  • 24 halftones
  • Price: $29.95
  • EAN: 9781592132362
  • Publication: Aug 2003
  • Price: $76.50
  • EAN: 9781566398893
  • Publication: Mar 2002


A Political Autobiography

Gerda Lerner
  • Outstanding Achievement Recognition by the Wisconsin Library Association Literary Awards Committee, 2003
  • A BookSense top 76 pick in the category, "Life Stories of Some Famous and Not-So-Famous Women," March/April 2003
  • A PW Book of the Day, June 2002

In Fireweed, Gerda Lerner, a pioneer and leading scholar in women's history, tells her story of moral courage and commitment to social change with a novelist's skill and a historian's command of context. Lerner's memoir focuses on the formative experiences that made her an activist for social justice before her academic career began. The child of a well-to-do Viennese Jewish family, she was still a teenager when a fascist regime came to power in 1934, and she became involved in the underground resistance movement. The Nazi takeover of Austria cast her into prison, then forced her and her family into exile; she alone was able to leave Europe.

Once in the United States, she experienced the harshness of the Depression and despair over the fate of her family. Still, she persisted in adapting to the new culture and to becoming a writer. Here she met and married her life-long partner, Carl Lerner, a film editor and director. Together they become deeply involved in left-wing activities, from struggling to unionize the film industry and resisting the blacklist in Hollywood to community organizing for peace, for an interracial civil rights movement, and for better schools in New York City. Lerner insists that her decades of grassroots organizing largely account for the theoretical insights she was later able to bring to the development of women's history.

In Fireweed, Lerner presents her life in the context of the major historical events of the twentieth century and the repression of dissent. Hers is a gripping story about surviving hardship and summoning the courage to live according to one's convictions.


"A spirited, eminently readable and unapologetic memoir of leftist life in a rightist era....(L)eaving readers hungry for more(,) Lerner's autobiography also makes a fine contribution to social history."
Kirkus Reviews

"Most people become historians by going to school day and night for years. Gerda Lerner became a historian by working in her youth in social justice and women's rights movements that became history. Then, in middle age, she went to school day and night—finally becoming one of our preeminent writers and teachers of Women's History. Fireweed is a wonderful and inspiring story for young women."
Grace Paley

"(Fireweed ) reads like a novel..."
The New York Times Book Review

"As a work of prose, this autobiography has a peculiar beauty. Some of the lines are magical... Perhaps the most striking aspect of Gerda Lerner's memoir, as of her many other publications, is the lucidity of her vision.... But, like the eloquent Simone de Beauvoir, who also told her own life, she has made it difficult for any would-be biographer to do better."
The Women's Review of Books

"Perhaps most of all, Fireweed is about the intertwining of memory and history, and as such it serves as a profound lesson in methodology.... Lerner's work is no ordinary reminiscence, for the act of remembering forms part of her story, as she continually reminds us how complicated are the primary sources upon which we rely."
The Journal of American History

About the Author(s)

Gerda Lerner, (1920-2013) a past president of the Organization of American Historians, was Robinson-Edwards Professor of History, Emerita, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her eleven books in history include Creation of Patriarchy, Creation of Feminist Consciousness, Why History Matters, and Black Women in White America: A Documentary History.

In the Series

Critical Perspectives on the Past

No longer active. Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.