he subtitle to this book, which reads "The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy", is certainly one to raise eyebrows. what a tantalizing combination of character elements! the best part is that this is no fiction.
Mark Leier, a historian at Simon Fraser university, has certainly put together a book which is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the labour history of western canada. besides acting as a fascinating biography of Robert Gosden, Rebel Life is a labour history primer. There are side-bars throughout the book which expand upon various concepts and movements revolving around labour. as well, there is a 50 page 'bibliography of b.c. labour history' which appears at the end of the book.
as for being a biography and a view on history, Rebel Life is a real page turner. from Gosden's early days in the labour movement, through to his time as a labour spy for the rcmp, there is something about this strange, overlooked character from canadian history which is compelling. perhaps it is the way Gosden rethought his ideas (and ideals) and how we are now capable of watching his growth as a person. we learn how his revolutionary outlook was further fueled by several stays in prison, how he turned more and more to mysticism and theosophy later in life, and how he disappeared from the public spotlight as quickly as he entered it. Gosden was a unique and complex character. by writing about Gosden, Mark Leier helps put a face to history. he reminds us about the importance of the individual worker in history, and the lessons that can be learned about personal struggle.
considering that there is always a strike occurring somewhere, it is satisfying to learn about the roots of unionism in western canada to get a better conception of how and why people push for the changes they do. if anything, it makes you more sympathetic towards the plight of the worker, aids you in understanding how solidarity is necessary in order to provoke meaningful change, and reminds us that there are always strong leaders willing to stand up for these struggles.
published by new star books