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Life of a Klansman: Book summary and reviews of Life of a Klansman by Edward Ball

Life of a Klansman

A Family History in White Supremacy

by Edward Ball

Life of a Klansman by Edward Ball X
Life of a Klansman by Edward Ball
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2020
    416 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The life and times of a militant white supremacist, written by one of his offspring, National Book Award–winner Edward Ball.

Life of a Klansman tells the story of a warrior in the Ku Klux Klan, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the Civil War. Author Edward Ball, a descendant of the Klansman, paints a portrait of his family's anti-black militant that is part history, part memoir rich in personal detail.

Sifting through family lore about "our Klansman" as well as public and private records, Ball reconstructs the story of his great-great grandfather, Constant Lecorgne. A white French Creole, father of five, and working class ship carpenter, Lecorgne had a career in white terror of notable and bloody completeness: massacres, night riding, masked marches, street rampages―all part of a tireless effort that he and other Klansmen made to restore white power when it was threatened by the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. To offer a non-white view of the Ku-klux, Ball seeks out descendants of African Americans who were once victimized by "our Klansman" and his comrades, and shares their stories.

For whites, to have a Klansman in the family tree is no rare thing: Demographic estimates suggest that fifty percent of whites in the United States have at least one ancestor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan at some point in its history. That is, one-half of white Americans could write a Klan family memoir, if they wished.

In an era when racist ideology and violence are again loose in the public square, Life of a Klansman offers a personal origin story for white supremacy. Ball's family memoir traces the vines that have grown from militant roots in the Old South into the bitter fruit of the present, when whiteness is again a cause that can veer into hate and domestic terror.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] clear-eyed work of historical reclamation and an intimate, self-lacerating take on memory and collective responsibility." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] resonant tale ... [and] a self-searching meditation ... An illuminating contribution to the literature of race and racism in America." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[Life of a Klansman] is sober, dominated by a deep sense of shame and outrage, and intentionally disquieting. It won't be a comfortable reading experience, and it's not meant to be, but it's a necessary one." - Booklist (starred review)

"There is no other writer of nonfiction about race writing today who has taken us deeper into our greatest national and familial dilemma than Edward Ball. Life of a Klansman is a deeply personal history, a brave work, and a lodestar for how we have arrived at yet another reckoning about white supremacy. Ball demonstrates here, for all who wish to try, just how to face, narrate, and understand our past even when we find ancestors and stories we might wish away. In his work, he allows for no looking away, and he does so in lyrical prose." - David W. Blight, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"In this compelling narrative of the life of a klansman, Edward Ball reckons with the history of whiteness that has shaped the U.S. and which is his personal inheritance. Ball confronts the violence and hatred at the foundation of white authority and privilege by recounting his great-great-grandfather's worldview and acts of brutality. It is easy to recoil from the ugliness documented in these pages; much more difficult is the task of acknowledging that murder and terror are the bedrock of the nation. Life of A Klansman is a must-read, now more than ever." - Saidiya Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

"If you are a white American, Edward Ball calculates, the odds that you have a Klansman in your family tree are one in two. In this singular work of imaginative reconstruction, Ball brings his own family's Klansman out of the closet and into the light. With a detective's tenacity, Life of a Klansman personalizes the terror of white supremacy as it builds toward a crescendo that sears the soul." - Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Distinguished Professor at Duke University and author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America and Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan

"Edward Ball's fascinating Life of A Klansman escapes genres. His art combines imagination and history to tell the story of the sometimes brutal, often mundane, life of his ancestor, a New Orleans carpenter who became 'our klansman.' Delicately balancing empathy and disgust, he examines the chokehold whiteness and white supremacy have fastened on public memory." - Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University and author of The Republic for Which It Stands

The information about Life of a Klansman shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Edward Ball

Edward Ball's books include The Inventor and the Tycoon, about the birth of moving pictures in California, and Slaves in the Family, an account of his family's history as slaveholders in South Carolina, which received the National Book Award for Nonfiction. He has taught at Yale University and has been awarded fellowships by the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the New York Public Library's Cullman Center. He is also the recipient of a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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