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C. Wright Mills

Letters and Autobiographical Writings

C. Wright Mills (Author), Kathryn Mills (Editor), Dan Wakefield (Introduction), Pamela Mills (Editor)

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Paperback, 406 pages
ISBN: 9780520232099
September 2001
$36.95, £25.95
One of the leading public intellectuals of twentieth-century America and a pioneering and brilliant social scientist, C. Wright Mills left a legacy of interdisciplinary and hard-hitting work including two books that changed the way many people viewed their lives and the structure of power in the United States: White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956). Mills persistently challenged the status quo within his profession--as in The Sociological Imagination (1959)--and within his country, until his untimely death in 1962. This collection of letters and writings, edited by his daughters, allows readers to see behind Mills's public persona for the first time.

Mills's letters to prominent figures--including Saul Alinsky, Daniel Bell, Lewis Coser, Carlos Fuentes, Hans Gerth, Irving Howe, Dwight MacDonald, Robert K. Merton, Ralph Miliband, William Miller, David Riesman, and Harvey Swados--are joined by his letters to family members, letter-essays to an imaginary friend in Russia, personal narratives by his daughters, and annotations drawing on published and unpublished material, including the FBI file on Mills.
Preface
Remembrance by Kathryn Mills
My Father Haunts Me by Pamela Mills
Acknowledgments
Introduction by Dan Wakefield
I. Growing Up in Texas, 1916-1939
II. Graduate Studies: Madison, Wisconsin, 1939 - 1941
III. Starting Out: College Park, Maryland, 1941 - 1945
IV. Taking it Big: New York, New York, 1945 - 1956
V. An American Aboriginal Goes Cosmopolitan: Europe, New York, and Mexico, 1956-1960
VI. The Last Two Years: New York and Cuba, 1960-1962
Chronology
Books by C. Wright Mills: American and Foreign editions
Notes on Selected Correspondents
About the Editors
Glossary of Abbreviations
Index
C. Wright Mills was a maverick social scientist who taught in Copenhagen, London, and Mexico City in addition to the United States. His work has been translated into twenty-three languages. Kathryn Mills works for a book publisher in Boston. Pamela Mills teaches American literature and composition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dan Wakefield is the author of New York in the Fifties (1992), which is the basis for a documentary film, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem (1959), and many other works, including the best-selling novels Going All the Way (1970) and Selling Out (1985).
"The extraordinary C. Wright Mills was an intellectual hero of the New Left, a model of the engaged academic. This volume of his letters and writings provides a fascinating insight into Mills as a person—as a family man and a friend—as well as a thinker. Mills packed so much into his terribly short life, and young people today should find inspiration in his enormous energy, his breadth of interest, and his political boldness."—Howard Zinn, Boston University

"This carefully and lovingly edited volume is bound to revive interest in the work and life of one of the most creative radical intellectuals of the postwar years."—Lewis A. Coser, Boston University

"C. Wright Mills was a passionate public citizen, and therefore, he wrote to be read beyond the academy. He succeeded, making many non-tenured people think, me included. This book further illuminates the life-force within this professor beyond borders."—Nat Hentoff, author of Living the Bill of Rights

"C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings is an invaluable guide to the thought and sensibilities of one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century. This book is a must for sociologists, social science students and historians."—Saul Landau, Hugh O. La Bounty Chair of Applied Interdisciplinary Knowledge, California Polytechnic University

“The personal testimony of a courageous American thinker will afford younger readers a direct look at our past, and perhaps teach them--as Mills did for many of us--that living fully requires thinking largely.”—Norman Birnbaum, Georgetown University Law Center

“Mills was among the most intellectually engaging of American social scientists, and he deserves our continuing attention. As these letters and autobiographical essays bring out, he exemplified both a highly personal perspective and a commitment to issues of basic public importance. He saw the connections between biography and intellectual insight, and in this wonderfully edited collection, his writings demonstrate a clarity of perception that adds to our understanding of both his work and his period.” —Craig Calhoun, President, Social Science Research Council

SELECTIONS FROM THE LETTERS


From a letter to Mills's parents, December 18, 1946:

"The book on white collar workers is coming along slow but sure. I'm not wanting to rush it. After all, the translation Gerth and I did was a book for specialists (incidently it is selling well; I expect by next 18 months or so to make a couple of thousand from it) but this white collar book: ah, there's a book for the people, it is everybody's book. So I am trying to make it damn good all over. Simple and clean cut in style, but with a lot of implications and subtleties woven into it. It is my little work of art: it will have to stand for the operations I never will do, not being a surgeon, and for the houses I never built, not being an architect. So, you see, it has to be a thing of craftsmanship and art as well as science. That is why it takes so long. There is no hurry. It will stand a long time, when it is finally done. It is all about the new little man in the big world of the 20th century. It is about that little man and how he lives and what he suffers and what his chances are going to be; and it is also about the world he lives in, has to live, doesn't want to live in. It is, as I said, going to be everybody's book. For, in truth, who is not a little man?"
From a letter to William Miller, 1952:

"You ask for what one should be keyed up? My god, for long weekends in the country, and snow and the feel of an idea and New York streets early in the morning and late at night and the camera eye always working whether you want or not and yes by god how the earth feels when it's been plowed deep and the new chartreuse wall in the study and wine before dinner and if you can afford it Irish whiskey afterwards and sawdust in your pants cuff and sometimes at evening the dusky pink sky to the north west, and the books to read never touched and all that stuff the Greeks wrote and have you ever read Macaulay's speeches to hear the English language? And to revise your mode of talk and what you talk about and yes by god the world of music which we just now discover and there's still hot jazz and getting a car out of the mud when nobody else can. That's what the hell to get keyed up about. The trouble with you and what used to be the trouble with me is that you don't use your goddamned senses; too much society crap and too much mentality and not enough tactile and color and sound stuff going on. So now if you're like I was a year ago, you've got to coax the sight and sound back, carefully tease it to life again and it will fill you up."
From a letter to Tovarich, 1957 (an imaginary Russian friend):

"Tovarich, of course, you realize that these letters to you are also letters to myself. That can't be helped if only because we are so separated; we are so ignorant of each other. That's why I am going to become very personal indeed in this letter and tell you something about who I might be and how I think I got that way. Yesterday afternoon when I was thinking about how I'd write to you about this, I thought: how can I tell him who I am when I'm not yet sure myself what I wish to become? And as for the past, like almost everyone, I've got several different pasts that I find variously useful, and comforting; and all of them are equally convincing.... Let me tell you first about my grandfather and why I am not an oil millionaire.

I grew up in Texas, curiously enough on no ranch but in Waco, Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Sherman, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio -- in that order. My family moved around a bit. The reason I was not stabilized on a ranch is that my grandfather had lost my ranch. He was shot in the back with a 30-30 rifle.... "

From a letter to Tovarich, 1959:

"You and I, Tovarich, we are students, writers, and readers; we belong to something that's bigger than any government; we owe loyalty, if you want, to something higher than any one state. Political loyalties are conditional upon our reasoning, and such loyalties are not circumscribed by national boundaries.... The internationalism of the mind and sensibilities is not an abstract internationalism. Nor is it inaccessible. It is available in the bookstore on the corner, and the library downtown; it is as solid as the feeling set up by the look of a steel beam, as specific as the grace of a bamboo shoot, as general as the idea of nature or humanity.... "To write is to reason; it is to fight against chaos and murk. There's an enthusiasm that "takes you over" when you feel -- it doesn't matter now whether it is so or not -- when you feel you're conquering a little more of it for and by understanding. "

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