Fight of the Century is a collection of essays edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, each of which focuses on a specific landmark case that the ACLU helped argue. The release earlier this year celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the organization and recruited some literary heavyweights like Ann Patchet, Neil Gaiman, Marlon James, and so many more to contribute to the cause. I picked this up on a whim, seeing that Chabon (one of my favorites) was helping edit, along with some of the other names involved, and I’m very glad I did.
What a joy, to read some of my favorite authors’ essays on some of the most important civil rights and protections rulings in United States history, that were fought for by the ACLU. The cast of contributors is diverse and talented, each writing on a topic that is important to them. Seeing a handful of the sheer number of important cases the ACLU has had a hand in shaping in one place, brought to life by people they are important to, is pretty awe-inspiring.
Like any anthology, there’s some stories that are better than others, and some cases are sure to be more important to some readers than others. But no essay goes on too long, and there’s sure to be something here for everyone. The essays introduce an interesting cast of characters, as some of these cases are as interesting as anything you’d read about in fiction. Those characters are brought to life through the writing of so many talented writers. I appreciated that at least one essay was dedicated to questioning the ACLU’s position on a subject, an effort to make the assessment of the organization’s past a bit more balanced.
This is bound to be a book that appeals and engages depending on your level of interest in source material and, likely, your political leanings. If you disagree ideologically with many of the positions that the ACLU has taken over the years, there’s nothing here that’s going to convince you otherwise. If you fall on the other side of the fence, you may feel more similarly to me in regards to the quality of the collection.
I believe it’s important to periodically reflect on how far civil rights and protections have come in the 100 years since the ACLU was formed, as well as how far we have left to go. Instead of just reciting history, Fight of the Century provided first-hand narratives about how these rulings can and are impacting people positively everyday. It was heartening to read about those who have been influenced and those kinds of stories can sometimes be too hard to find today.