Bohemians West Reviews



“Sherry Smith tells a fascinating story of two lovers who tried to turn passion into principle and instead lived a life of contradiction, turmoil, tragedy, selfishness, adventure, and an ultimate odd contentment. It is a story of sex, love, betrayal, and a relationship whose story illuminates the bohemian and radical West.”

–Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896

“Sherry Smith has written about American social radicals before, but this time there is a remarkable love story to parse. To understand the heat between anarchist-poet Erskine Wood and suffragist-journalist Sara Bard Field, think a West Coast version of their contemporaries John Reed and Louise Bryant, if that shining couple had gotten thirty years instead of three. As a biography of a love affair in a turbulent time awhirl with new ideas, Bohemians West is a bell ringer of a book, a fully realized tour de force.”

–Dan Flores, New York Times best-selling author of Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History

“In his youth one member of this remarkable couple met Ulysses Grant; in her old age, the other talked with the man who introduced Zen Buddhism to America in the 1950s and ‘60s, Alan Watts. In between, an amazing collection of people passed through their lives, from Clarence Darrow (who introduced them) and Lincoln Steffens to Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman. Sherry L. Smith does a splendid job of bringing this cast of characters to life.”

–Adam Hochschild, author of Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radicals, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

“Readers will not be able to put down this remarkably detailed and absorbing love story….We learn about the on-the-ground struggles of the suffrage campaign, the literary world, and World War I-era repression. Whether Wood and Bard Field’s stories inspire or irritate, their struggles for personal freedom and social justice and the challenges of their failings, ideological inconsistencies, and relationships of power remain current.”

—Laurie Mercier, Claudius O. and Mary W. Johnson Distinguished Professor of History, Washington State University

“The great virtue of this book is not only that it revives vivid and emblematic personalities who have dropped out of the American historical canon, but also that it focuses on issues involving sexual equality and political progressivism, as relevant today as they were a century ago. The author is to be commended for not glossing over the fact that sexual equality in ‘free,’ non-marital relationships can be as thorny an issue as it is in marriage. This meticulously researched and passionate account recalls the words of Wood’s and Field’s contemporary Emma Goldman, the anarchist and feminist who memorably wrote, ‘Free love? As if love is anything but free!’”

–Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

Bohemians West invites readers into a new understanding of some key early twentieth-century figures of artistic and political dissent. These daring pioneers could be found not only in New York but even in staid Portland, Oregon. Their free love was both theory and practice, their entanglements producing hurt and jealousy but also a new form of freedom and loyalty; their sexual radicalism, at times, self-indulgent, often strengthened their commitment to social-justice campaigns. [Through] a vast trove of intimate letters, deftly integrated by Sherry Smith, Bohemians West reads like a bodice-ripper novel, while offering a serious reconsideration of American countercultures.”

–Linda Gordon, winner of two Bancroft Prizes, author of Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits and co-author of Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women’s Movements

“Smith brilliantly illuminates the pursuit of women’s suffrage, free love, labor radicalism, and anarchism over one hundred years ago. But she also shows how her subjects’ lives speak so relevantly to our own time and its preoccupations.”

—Margaret Jacobs, author of White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940

“In Bohemians West Sherry Smith introduces us to a woman and a man — each fascinating and complicated, to their love as it evolved over decades, and to what both can teach us about America and its West. Through all she reminds us there have always been those who have found in the West the inspiration to question national platitudes and received wisdom and to pursue that questioning with a passion like that Erskine and Sara had for each other.”

–Elliott West, author of The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

All photos are courtesy of the Huntington Library, Museums and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California.