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Sex and Communism: New at Reason

The times and trajectory of Max Eastman, progressive turned "libertarian conservative"

Max Eastman Yale University Press"It doesn't cheapen the aims of this biography or the ambitions of its subject," writes Christoph Irmscher, "to describe what follows as a story largely about sex and communism." What follows is the life of Max Eastman—poet, nudist, women's suffragist, war resister, socialist editor, and finally a self-described "libertarian conservative." William F. Buckley Jr. found his atheism unpalatable. But to a teenage Carly Simon, Eastman—by then in his 80s—was "the most beautiful man she had ever met." She was far from the only woman to feel that way.

Eastman's star burned bright for more than half of the 20th century, as he wrote his way to fame, traveled the world, translated Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, and ended up as one of the red faith's foremost apostates.

What kind of background produces a character like Max Eastman? One that begins with parents who were both Christian ministers. Max was born in Canandaigua, New York, in 1883. His mother, Annis, was ordained in 1889, but had for years already been assisting her husband, Rev. Samuel Eastman, with his sermons. Annis was emotionally close to her children, and they were close to one another. In the case of Max and his sister Crystal, two years older than him, they might have been too close. Crystal would be the adolescent Max's ideal woman; her letters home to him from college are full of flirtatious teasing, writes Daniel McCarthy in his review of Max Eastman: A Life by Christoph Irmscher.

Photo Credit: Yale University Press

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