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Ida: A Sword Among Lions

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  364 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
In the tradition of towering biographies that tell us as much about America as they do about their subject, Ida: A Sword Among Lions is a sweeping narrative about a country and a crusader embroiled in the struggle against lynching: a practice that imperiled not only the lives of blackmen and women, but also a nation based on law and riven by race.

At the center of the natio
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published March 11th 2008 by Amistad (first published January 1st 2008)
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I Be Reading
Jul 08, 2015 I Be Reading rated it really liked it
This took forever for me to finish but it was a great read. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a trailblazer and should get far more recognition and credit than she does. Her investigative reports on lynching, some of which were included in the book, were so thorough and gave the real reasons why black men and women were lynched. I found her life and work around lynchings to be the most interesting part of the book; I wasn't so much interested in the politics and disagreements she got into with prominent ...more
May 31, 2015 L.A. rated it it was amazing
This took me a little over two months to read, and it was worth every moment. Best biography I've ever read. And it doubles as an AP History text, too, in all the things most of us are never taught about Black American history.

This incredibly detailed work of scholarship (over 600 pages of text, and then another 200+ pages of notes and bibliography) covers everything known about Ida Barnett-Wells's life and work, from her difficult childhood through the trials and tribulations of her teaching ca
Apr 29, 2010 Tracie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd never heard about Ida B. Wells, until I read a blog post somewhere recommending this biography. I think reading this book "blind" made it more interesting because I didn't know what to expect from this woman's life. I commend Giddings research and fantastic writing to keep me engaged (though it definitely took me a long time to finish it) and I feel like I got a really good feel for who Ida B. Wells was. I think the most interesting thing was seeing Ida struggle against marginalization (some ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Kelley rated it it was amazing
Extremely comprehensive. Anyone who needs to gather tons of background knowledge (and contextual evidence) about Wells-Barnett should read this book. It made teaching my students about Wells-Barnett a lot easier because I had plenty of information to pull from. It does get too dense in places though, but I can't fault Giddings for being so passionate and interested in her topic.
Nona Jones
Dec 28, 2012 Nona Jones rated it it was amazing
This book is challenging to read because of the length and depth of subject matter, however, I walked away from the book with a renewed sense of pride for the rich history of Black women in America. Ida Wells is a heroine in my view and Paula Giddings did a phenomenal job capturing this.
Jun 08, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing
I know the bare-bones basics about Ida Wells going into this book: Southern journalist who spearheaded the campaign against lynching. That sentence alone should give you some sense of how courageous the lady was. Yet the more I read, the more impressive Ida Wells got - not only that once she found her issue, she worked so constantly for that goal, but also that she took anything that was thrown at her, picked herself back up, and kept right on. On the rare occasions she did get tired of the figh ...more
A monumental biography for an amazing woman, A Sword Among Lions walks through Ida B. Wells's childhood in Mississippi, her defining moment confronting lynch mobs in Memphis, and her subsequent august career as an advocate, journalist, activist, and public intellectual. Giddings brings into focus Wells's trailblazing work, including an early and progressive analysis of the social realities underlying lynching, which would take decades for her more privileged black male and white female contempor ...more
Jul 25, 2014 Charlice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This is not only the biography of a woman, but also of an era. About Ida B. Wells-Barnett, I learned that she was far more than an anti-lynching crusader. That was certainly a crucial part of her story, but she was also a suffragist, a political strategist, and a humanitarian. Her impact on U.S. history has been vastly understated. She was not given much better credit during her lifetime. Luminaries like W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson who, it could be argued, owed some of their ideas and st ...more
Sep 27, 2014 Naomi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
When must we break the social conventions that bind us and use those same conventions to further justice? Ida B. Wells navigated her life with these two questions ever in mind: in order to seek justice, she often had to both break with social convention and to appeal to it. Giddings' biography explores Wells' strengths and weaknesses, leaving this reader grateful for Wells' pursuit of justice and inspired by her discipline to keep learning from every defeat and keep organizing for justice throug ...more
Really interesting subject but the level of detail was too much for me as a general reader. It was hard to get through the whole book. I did appreciate learning about the infighting and drama that Ida Wells had to deal with. Her strong personality and passion for justice came through loud and clear. Also, many of the internal conflicts among people working for progressive goals sounded extremely familiar. On the one hand, it's kind of depressing to think that we are going through the same drama ...more
Aug 13, 2009 Melanie rated it it was ok
Ida B. Wells was a journalist and tireless campaigner against lynching around the turn of the 20th century. She had a fascinating and exciting life that spanned a changing era from the end of slavery to the mid-twentieth century. Her parents were slaves, but she was able to get an education, travel, and become an important voice for equal rights for Blacks. She knew and spent time with Jane Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and WEB Du Bois, to name just a few. Her writing against lynch ...more
Mar 13, 2009 Bart rated it it was amazing
Run out of Memphis for her investigative (and incendiary!) journalism and ridiculed by her moderate contemporaries for black separatist and pro-woman views, Ida B. Wells' activism precedes those credited for similar "novel" actions. Rosa Parks (and maybe not Wells) was not the first person kicked out of transport designated for white people only. Wells traveled around the United States investigating and speaking against lynching and dispelled the myth of the black male rapist. Paula Giddings sug ...more
Jun 05, 2016 enricocioni rated it it was amazing
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a formidable human! A daughter of slaves who grew up in the post-Civil War South and was orphaned at 16, she managed to become a schoolteacher and subsequently a journalist through a lot of hard work and a fair bit of talent, and, around the age of 30, emerged as this incendiary figure in American politics, campaigning against lynching and researching and writing pamphlet after pamphlet on the subject and touring the US and the UK to raise awareness about America's "nati ...more
Pam Richmond
Oct 03, 2015 Pam Richmond rated it it was amazing
This book made a big impact on me. It was like a year of study, and it did take me about 4 months to read the 600+ pages of text, plus notes and a few other books I checked out of the library. It took awhile to get into the rhythm of her style, which is academic, cautious, and at times, surprisingly candid. I'm not a history buff, but prefer the ethnographic style of close examination of individual's lives. This author is a master. She follows Ida B. Wells' life meticulously. Along the way, hist ...more
Sally Kenney
Feb 22, 2009 Sally Kenney rated it really liked it
Well, she's no Doris Kearns Goodwin and it's a hard slog but well worth it. I learned so much about the interworkings of the antiracist social movement. It's heartbreaking how she's continually marginalized but stays the course campaigning against lynching. Of course, she was clearly a prickly pear herself. A great history of lynching, feminism, Chicago politics. Very different from the breezy When and Where I Enter.
Sheri Maple
Jan 02, 2010 Sheri Maple rated it really liked it
I purchased the book back in April as I wanted to know more about Ida B. Wells. The book is very well-researched and discusses all of strengths and weaknesses. I have other biographies of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington that were contemporaries, and Giddings' book gives me a view of the times through Ida's eyes.
Jul 28, 2015 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bios
Fantastic, detailed biography about a very courageous and determined woman who dared to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Sadly, she was never given the credit she deserved for her tireless crusade against lynching, largely due to jealousy and chauvinism within her own organizations.
Jan 10, 2009 Sally added it
Recommends it for: people interested in civil rights, women's suffrage
This book brought into the open a woman who has been sidelined and pushed under a barrel despite her efforts to educate and mobilize black men and women during the very touchy period of reconstruction through post World War I. This is the time when the South got back it's traditional political strength, and the federal government did not want to "offend" the southern politicians, which resulted in negro rights being trampled and separate but equal becoming a way of life for blacks in the south a ...more
I wanted to be an investigative journalist when I was in high school so when Ida B. Wells appeared in our history segments I was fascinated and wanted to know more. Fast forward and I no longer have an interest in journalism but Ida B. Wells still holds my attention. I wanted to like this book but the inclusion of all manner of trivial matters of Ida's personal life (she turns out not to be a very likeable person - hot-headed, sensitive and self-absorbed) along with details of all the requisite ...more
May 18, 2016 Sepideh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This book about the life of Ida Wells explains a lot about how the various activists of the early twentieth century worked together and apart and which strategies were successful.

Wells devoted much of her life to getting people equal protection under the law. She pointed out that the stories about black men raping white women that were leading to lynchings were generally overblown and that most lynching victims were not accused of this type of crime.
Feb 18, 2016 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
A little longer than it needed to be, but this was a fascinating look at a civil rights pioneer who isn't as well known as she should be. The author is very good at getting the reader into the mindset of black men and women who at the time were terrorized, and how Wells' work was a landmark in establishing a fight against that.
Sep 09, 2015 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reference, nonfiction
An excellent, thorough biography of an amazing woman.
Jul 17, 2014 Jenna rated it it was ok
Shelves: blkwomensyllabus
I don't know how this author managed to write 600+ incredibly boring pages about a woman who lived anything but a boring life, but there you have it. I wanted to keep reading because Ida's story is remarkable and inspiring, but ultimately it's probably better to try another book altogether, like Ida In Her Own Words ( or They Say ( Full disclosure: I haven't read either of those, but they can't possibly be worse.
Theophilus (Theo)
Dec 17, 2008 Theophilus (Theo) rated it liked it
One fascinating part of the life of one of African American history's most interesting women. Teacher, activist, one of the original founders of the NAACP, outspoken journalist, and crusader against lynching and segregation. It's hard to believe one person was so involved in civil rights, especially during a time when the consequences for speaking out could be fatal. This book takes a scholarly look at her work to bring the horrors of lynching to the attention of the nation. Good book for a movi ...more
May 07, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing
Who knew that the White City was the reason Ida went to Chicago? Remarkable book. Well-researched and well-written.
Sarah Bader-king
Sep 11, 2015 Sarah Bader-king rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
An in-depth read about an amazing activist who fought against sexism, classism, racism, and lynching. It made for some dense reading, but it was worth it, and put Ida Wells' activism in a rich historical context. Also, Kate Beaton did a really great comic about Wells recently, which was why I finally picked up this book from the library:
Jul 16, 2016 Grace rated it really liked it
Compelling, thorough, and remarkable book about a truly remarkable woman. She was fierce, uncompromising, and never given her due during her lifetime. It's the anniversary of her birth today - a perfect time to reflect on the incredible work she did for black men, women, and everyone else to shame and end lynching and raise equality.
Katherine Lavelle
Jun 21, 2016 Katherine Lavelle rated it it was amazing
This book is long, but Wells had a really interesting life as anti-lynching advocate at the turn of the century. If you are interested in women's history and how intersectional identity played out in historical social movements, this is a good read. Giddings had a ton of source material to work with.
Amanda Rose
Feb 26, 2013 Amanda Rose rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This is a brilliant book about a truly astounding woman. A biography of Wells and part of her life's work, the antilynching campaign but also takes in a sweeping view of Reconstruction and early 20C political and social movements which makes it an essential read on American history.
Feb 16, 2014 Kara rated it it was amazing
Have to admit I didn't know much about her other than her name before reading this book. So much we as Africa Americans we don't know is our own fault. If you don't tell the kids what you know the how are they ever going to her about what life was like back then.
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Paula Giddings (born 1947 in Yonkers, New York) is a writer and an African-American historian. She is the author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America and In Search of Sisterhood. She is a professor of African-American Studies at Smith College and has previously taught at Spelman College, where she was a United Negro Fund Distinguished Scholar and Douglass ...more
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