I Wanna Be Literated #228

I Wanna Be Literated #228

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

The Selected Works of Eugene V. Debs, Vol. I: Building Solidarity on the Tracks, 1877–1892
by Eugene V. Debs, Tim Davenport (Editor), David Walters (Editor)

Look, I try my hardest not to hate on books, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Going in, I was expecting to fully love The Selected Works of Eugene Debs. He’s a fascinating historical figure, has fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, was America’s most prominent socialist, founded the IWW, and ran for president…while being in jail. So, I tried focusing on this book. I really tried. But, soon I found myself dreading spending more time with it.

At the surface there’s nothing particularly wrong with Vol I of his collected works, especially when you put in in context of the greater project of collecting all his writings. Debs is a young whippersnapper at this point and his ideas are just now forming. A 6 volume series would benefit from this stage of this writings at the very least to see how his views have progressed. But this book is 670 pages of essentially the same essay: proclaiming the virtues of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, why striking should only occur when every other means has been exhausted, and what makes a “true honest man” in the late 19th century. It’s these essays over and over and over for 600 pages in tiny font. Sure, at the end Debs discusses other topics like the importance of a reduced workweek, but even these essays cannot make up for the boredom of this book.

What this volume could have benefited from is better editing. I understand Debs might have written a lot in these years but this volume could have been half its size (or even shorter) and no one would have cared. What exactly is going through Davenport’s and Walter’s minds that they think we need this much of the same thing? After about a hundred pages or so, I started to slog and lose concentration and almost started looking at the words instead of reading them. I would then make a concerted effort to pay attention only to have it happen all over again.

I’m sure Debs was a great man and the following volumes will do his memory proud, but avoid this one unless you’re some sort of Debs scholar or completist.

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