The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth

On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperate...

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Title:The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
Author:Josh Levin
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The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth Reviews

  • Jill Meyer

    In 1975, during his first run for the Republican Presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan (from his team of advisors) came up with the term "Welfare Queen". These words denoted a black woman who has connived and cheated the United States' program of welfare, aid-to-dependent-children, and other social programs that were for the "deserving poor", The "Queen" was driving around in her Cadillac, stopping at the supermarket where she'll use her food stamps to buy caviar and expensive cuts of steak, wa

    In 1975, during his first run for the Republican Presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan (from his team of advisors) came up with the term "Welfare Queen". These words denoted a black woman who has connived and cheated the United States' program of welfare, aid-to-dependent-children, and other social programs that were for the "deserving poor", The "Queen" was driving around in her Cadillac, stopping at the supermarket where she'll use her food stamps to buy caviar and expensive cuts of steak, washing it all down with Dom Perignon. And, she was, of course, wearing her full length mink coat. This "Welfare Queen" actually had a name. She was "Linda Taylor", and she lived on the South Side of Chicago.

    But, who was "Linda Taylor"? Journalist Josh Levin spent six years tracking down "Linda Taylor", with all her aliases and lies, and has written a book, "The Queen", with his findings. His book is an exhaustive look at "Taylor" - she was known to have about 25 aliases - and the methods she used to break the system of social programs. I bet that Levin needed an spreadsheet to keep up with the aliases Taylor used in her 50 years of deception. This deception also included fake children, stolen children, bigamy, possible murders, one possible kidnapping, and just all-around wickedness. He also looks at the society in which she was raised and how she was treated by her own birth relatives.

    Linda Taylor was not a black woman; it was thought that her mother was white and had had an affair with a black man. When Taylor was born in the mid-1920's, she really didn't have much more than a small idea of her identity. She was light skin and that allowed her to adopt almost any racial identity she wanted. Sometimes she claimed to be white, sometimes black, and sometimes Hispanic. She even had a Jewish husband or name somewhere along the line; "Steinberg" pops up in her list of aliases.

    Josh Levin's book is a long read. It is 350 pages of details of names and places and alternate identities. Levin thoughtfully puts in a timeline of Linda Taylor's life in the back, and I sure hope the release copies will include pictures, because I'd just love to see some of the people he writes about. I enjoyed the book because it is one of my favorite type of book - a work of non-fiction written like a work of fiction. Be sure to have access to Wikipedia when you're reading the book.

  • James Carmichael

    I received a galley copy of this book because I know the author. It's as good as you've (hopefully) heard. You've perhaps also heard the basics: the story Levin tells is about Linda Taylor, the woman on whom the political trope of the "welfare queen" was based.

    What I so enjoyed was how deftly the book tells, essentially, two parallel stories: the political one, which is about the cynical use of a racist trope to further the electoral chances and domestic political agenda of Ronald Reagan and the

    I received a galley copy of this book because I know the author. It's as good as you've (hopefully) heard. You've perhaps also heard the basics: the story Levin tells is about Linda Taylor, the woman on whom the political trope of the "welfare queen" was based.

    What I so enjoyed was how deftly the book tells, essentially, two parallel stories: the political one, which is about the cynical use of a racist trope to further the electoral chances and domestic political agenda of Ronald Reagan and the Reagan-era GOP -- this story has all the carelessness about factuality and dog-whistling and dubious claims one might expect of a mainstream American politician at this point (or that point. whatever. you get it).

    And the second story, which is the true crime story of what Linda Taylor actually was and did which is both sad and totally bonkers. It's hard to talk about this book without a phrase like "welfare fraud turned out to be the least of her crimes": not only is that definitely true, but the nature, extent, and...existential depth of her criminal nature is breathtaking (in a bad way). With crisp prose that's even occasionally funny, Levin unearths Taylor's lifelong string of lies and of victims -- people she took advantage of with theft, identity fraud, and perhaps much much worse...by all accounts apparently throughout her whole life.

    The book also delicately threads a tough needle: it presents the ways in which Taylor herself was victimized--most specifically by racial and gender bias, including with her own family--without ever letting its acknowledgment of these facts mitigate the toll her crimes took on her victims or the portrait of her as a dangerous sociopath that ultimately emerges.

    This makes the book a bit bigger than either of its two--already big--stories. It's a sad book; it's an exciting book, and an 'easy' read in a good sense in that it zips along. But it's sad because it's about lying and the low place of truth in our lives; it's about the awful costs that bias and entrenched inequalities have exacted on people in this country since forever; it's about victimization in our society. It's an exciting, strange read of a story that feels like an 'outlier' narrative (and indeed, is a pretty wild narrative) but that--for me--was anchored in a melancholy reflection on all the ways we can be bad.

    I can't recommend the thing highly enough.

  • Kevin Maney

    I cannot recommend this book highly enough. On a basic level, this is an absolute page turner. The author has clearly put in years of hard work trying to piece together a life of someone with no desire to be known. Linda Taylor will be familiar to any reader as the inspiration for Ronald Reagan's "Welfare Queen," hence the title, but the author has uncovered a story that is 10x more incredible than you could imagine. It defies summary in this space, so I'll just emphasize that once you pick it u

    I cannot recommend this book highly enough. On a basic level, this is an absolute page turner. The author has clearly put in years of hard work trying to piece together a life of someone with no desire to be known. Linda Taylor will be familiar to any reader as the inspiration for Ronald Reagan's "Welfare Queen," hence the title, but the author has uncovered a story that is 10x more incredible than you could imagine. It defies summary in this space, so I'll just emphasize that once you pick it up you will not be able to put it down.

    What makes this book particularly fantastic other than the obviously entertaining story is that Mr. Levin takes particular care to frame the story in the context of what it means for society. The "welfare queen" was not only a cheap example to rile up voters, it became an incredibly harmful stereotype that stuck to poor black women. When you read this book you cannot help but relate it to the current political climate and how that developed over years.

    Buy this book, if it isn't in the works already, you can bet this story will be made into a movie, it's that compelling!

  • Betty

    Review to come closer to publication date.

  • Pamela

    A fascinating introduction into the construction of the "welfare queen" myth, and the almost desperate need for some Americans to believe in her existence in order to justify cutting aid to the poor. In addition to providing that social history, Levin investigates Linda Taylor's real life, the life obscured by the myth, which was far darker, corrupt, and dangerous than Reagan could have believed. It's telling that Taylor's real victims—vulnerable women, innocent children—have been all but forgot

    A fascinating introduction into the construction of the "welfare queen" myth, and the almost desperate need for some Americans to believe in her existence in order to justify cutting aid to the poor. In addition to providing that social history, Levin investigates Linda Taylor's real life, the life obscured by the myth, which was far darker, corrupt, and dangerous than Reagan could have believed. It's telling that Taylor's real victims—vulnerable women, innocent children—have been all but forgotten, whereas her supposed victims—kind American taxpayers!—were never all that threatened.

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