Sociologist, social critic, and political radical C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) was one of the leading public intellectuals in twentieth century America. Offering an important new understanding of Mills and the times in which he lived, Radical Ambition challenges the captivating caricature that has prevailed of him as a lone rebel critic of 1950s complacency. Instead, it places Mills within broader trends in American politics, thought, and culture. Indeed, Daniel Geary reveals that Mills shared key assumptions about American society even with those liberal intellectuals who were his primary opponents. The book also sets Mills firmly within the history of American sociology and traces his political trajectory from committed supporter of the Old Left labor movement to influential herald of an international New Left. More than just a biography, Radical Ambition illuminates the career of a brilliant thinker whose life and works illustrate both the promise and the dilemmas of left-wing social thought in the United States.
Introduction: Maverick on a Motorcycle? The Thought and Times of C. Wright Mills
1. Student Ambitions: The Education of a Social Scientist
2. What Is Happening in the World Today: Weberian Sociology and Radical Political Analysis
3. The Union of the Power and the Intellect: The Labor Movement and Bureau-Driven Social Research
4. The New Little Men: 'White Collar'
5. The Politics of Truth: 'The Power Elite' and 'The Sociological Imagination'
6. Worldly Ambitions: The Emergence of a Global New Left
Epilogue: The Legacy of C. Wright Mills
Daniel Geary is the Mark Pigott Lecturer in United States History at Trinity College, Dublin.
"Dan Geary has given us a brilliant new biography of C. Wright Mills, a sophisticated and engaging study suited for 21st century readers. Never the sociological outlaw that so many of his followers once celebrated, Geary demonstrates that Mills' radicalism arose out of an intimate engagement with mainstream social science issues. He argues that Mills, like Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton, were part of a larger effort to study total social structures, but Mills always infused this quest with a subversive probe of the status quo that balanced a particularizing historicism against his constant ambition to tackle the big questions. Written with verve and insight, Dan Geary's biography is essential reading for our times."—Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Against conventional wisdom Daniel Geary shows how C. Wright Mills, the iconic U.S. public sociologist, was very much a product of his times, and, for most of his life, was deeply embedded in both the academy and politics. Geary brings out the fruits and tensions of participating in both worlds, with lessons for all of us who want to continue in Mills's tradition. Beautifully written and fascinating, especially on the early years of the iconoclast-intellectual."—Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley
"At last: an authentically Millsian biography of C.W. that eschews the romantic icon in order to recover the thinker in all of his magnificent ambition and complexity. Geary is a fresh wind in American intellectual history."—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
"Geary's analysis of C. Wright Mills should help put this great sociologist's ideas back into college classrooms, where he has been sorely missed."—Saul Landau, Institute for Policy Studies