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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 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 desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship; after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody--not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan--seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery. Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of her color. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin's mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism and an expose of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. The Queen tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.


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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 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 desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship; after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody--not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan--seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery. Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of her color. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin's mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism and an expose of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. The Queen tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.

30 review for The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “[Linda] Taylor rose to prominence in the mid-1970s as a very different kind of villain: America’s original ‘welfare queen…’ [A] squib in Jet magazine from 1974…said that she’d stolen $154,000 in public aid money in a single year, ‘owned three apartment buildings, two luxury cars, and station wagon,’ and had been ‘busy preparing to open a medical office, posing as a doctor.’ Another Jet article depicted her as a shape-shifting, fur-wearing con artist who could ‘change from black to white to Lati “[Linda] Taylor rose to prominence in the mid-1970s as a very different kind of villain: America’s original ‘welfare queen…’ [A] squib in Jet magazine from 1974…said that she’d stolen $154,000 in public aid money in a single year, ‘owned three apartment buildings, two luxury cars, and station wagon,’ and had been ‘busy preparing to open a medical office, posing as a doctor.’ Another Jet article depicted her as a shape-shifting, fur-wearing con artist who could ‘change from black to white to Latin with a mere change of a wig.’ But when Ronald Reagan expounded on Taylor during his 1976 presidential campaign, shocking audiences with the tale of ‘a woman in Chicago’ who used eighty aliases to steal government checks, he didn’t treat her as an outlier. Instead, Reagan implied that Taylor was a stand-in for a whole class of people who were getting something they didn’t deserve. The words used to malign Linda Taylor hardened into a stereotype, one that was deployed to chip away at benefits for the poor…” - Josh Levin, The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth This is the story of a woman who became a criminal, a criminal who became a myth, and a myth that helped to change – even destroy – “welfare as we know it.” The woman in question was Linda Taylor, a con artist, impostor, abductor, fraudster, and possibly even a murderer, but who will be remembered by her sobriquet – bestowed by the Chicago Tribune – as “the Welfare Queen.” She gained notoriety – though she was never named – when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan began using her misdeeds as one of his “folksy” anecdotes during his 1976 run for the Republican presidential nomination. By spinning this yarn about a nameless, faceless welfare cheat, Reagan was able to denigrate an entire class of persons as the undeserving poor, the poor who somehow always drove Cadillacs and ate lobster purchased with food stamps. Not surprisingly, Reagan’s call was also perceived by many to be a racial dog whistle. Though she came to stand – unfairly – for many, Taylor the individual is at the center of Josh Levin’s The Queen, an absolutely marvelous intersection of biography, sociology, true crime, and historical detective work. Levin has been able to piece together Taylor’s life – no mean feat, considering that she used dozens of aliases and left a breadcrumb trail of lies – and to place it into a larger framework. He is empathetic without acting as an apologist, and presents this tale in all its complexity, without leaving the reader behind. Levin adroitly discusses the bigger issues of race, class, and the social safety net, while also delivering a humdinger of a personal story. It is Catch Me If You Can without the happy ending, and also inflected with all the thorny societal issues that are still so relevant today. The Queen is structured in a serpentine manner, so that it starts in one place, loops back, and eventually skips forward again. At first, given that Taylor’s life already had a theme park’s worth of twists and turns, I thought a nonlinear presentation seemed needlessly complicated. Nevertheless, it absolutely works, demonstrating the enigmatic nature of Taylor’s life by presenting it as a mystery, which Levin gradually reveals. The fractured timeline also allows Levin to seamlessly add a bit of padding here and there, without being obvious about the fact. Things begin in Chicago, with a burglary detective meeting Linda Taylor, and coming away unimpressed with her story of how burglars – without forcing entry – managed to steal all her brand new appliances (which she had, of course, insured). Tugging on that bit of loose thread revealed a whole universe of fraud. When the Chicago Police Department dragged its feet on investigating Taylor (who was consistently able to expertly exploit the biases within governmental agencies, especially with regard to law enforcement, knowing that they simply would not make a huge effort for certain crimes, in certain neighborhoods), a detective went to the Chicago Tribune, and its famed investigative reporter George Bliss. Bliss, who Levin turns into a prominent secondary character, was a brilliantly dogged muckraker, speaking truth to power and exposing governmental corruption (this being Chicago, Bliss had a lot to do). He won the Pulitzer Prize himself, helped with the winning of two others, and also had a roomful of demons in his personal life. Levin’s treatment of Bliss is emblematic of what makes The Queen so good. It is a memorable sidelight that stands on its own while also adding immeasurably to the book’s chief subject. Later, after taking us up through Taylor’s legal troubles, Levin circles back, to recount a time in the past when Taylor attempted to pass herself as the sole surviving daughter and heir of Lawrence Wakefield, the Chicago policy king who died with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in his house. After describing Taylor’s ploy, and the lengthy and involved probate hearing it entailed, Levin goes back further in time, to describe Taylor’s birth. Able to pass – according to people who met her – as black, white, and Hispanic, Taylor was born in Tennessee to a white mother and black father. She grew up in a segregated Alabama in the 1920s, caught between vicious worlds. Her own family did not want her, and the universe at large was not much friendlier. Unwilling to passively submit to an existence narrowed by racism and poverty, she became a predator herself, indulging in false identities, insurance fraud, welfare fraud, abduction, child abuse, and elder abuse. She was closely intertwined with two deaths, neither of which resulted in charges against her, but both of which were supremely suspicious, and both of which benefited her financially. Levin has done an extraordinary job piecing together Taylor’s life, an already-difficult task made harder by Taylor’s premeditated obfuscations. Even her death certificate is riddled with her lies. Throughout The Queen, Levin connects Taylor’s individual odyssey with bigger-picture topics. For example, his concise summary of the welfare system is quite good, if not extremely deep. Levin demonstrates how the demonization of Taylor by politicians such as Reagan served useful ends, even though those ends were not really connected to Taylor’s crimes. For instance, most of the fraud in the entitlement system came from Medicaid. That is, most entitlement losses weren’t caused by a grifter wearing a mink coat, driving down the road eating a T-bone steak with one hand while holding the wheel of their Caddy with another. Rather, it was doctors charging the government for patient tests that weren’t needed, or that were never done in the first place. When fraud occurred in the welfare system in particular, it was usually done by people who accepted governmental checks while also working. However, they didn’t do this to make payments on their Porsche 959s, but to survive, since the benefit payments were so low. Ultimately, Levin shows what can happen when a single person is made to stand in for all the perceived evils of an entire group. Though Reagan did not gain the presidency the year he started trashing Taylor, he eventually inhabited the White House, where he oversaw big welfare cuts. And it was the memory of Taylor – or rather, the memory of the myth – that helped President Bill Clinton – who because of welfare reform, the Crime Bill, and the Defense of Marriage Act, might be the most effective conservative president of my lifetime – to attack the safety net with a pair of shears. Taylor was an absolutely inimitable criminal, unique in her drive, persistence, and brazenness. The idea that most people on welfare were anything like her is absolutely ludicrous. Linda Taylor was one of a kind, and I say that with a mixture of awe and horror. The overall reaction to Taylor perfectly encompasses the axiom that exceptional cases make bad policy. With that said, The Queen is not a lecture or sociological treatise. It is a true crime saga written with verve, intelligence, and empathy, that meticulously fills in the backstory of a person who told so many lies she could not hope to keep them straight, and often did not bother to try.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    First of all, kudos to the author Josh Levin for the unbelievable amount of research that he did for this book. Linda Taylor's life was based on one lie after another, many identities, and even uncertain race (she passed as black, white, Hawaiian, and Puerto Rican).......so many falsehoods that research must have been exhausting. But he uncovers a fascinating story that was front page news in the 1980s. Taylor was called the "welfare queen" but she was more than that. Granted, she received public First of all, kudos to the author Josh Levin for the unbelievable amount of research that he did for this book. Linda Taylor's life was based on one lie after another, many identities, and even uncertain race (she passed as black, white, Hawaiian, and Puerto Rican).......so many falsehoods that research must have been exhausting. But he uncovers a fascinating story that was front page news in the 1980s. Taylor was called the "welfare queen" but she was more than that. Granted, she received public assistance/food stamps under at least 12 different identities but she also assumed the identity of deceased people to claim their pensions, robbed houses, forged wills and may well have been a murderer. She was probably the most consummate liar of modern times and seemed to be able to talk herself out of any situation when confronted by federal/state law enforcement. There is another underlying theme to this book. Linda Taylor became the stereotype for anyone who had to rely on public assistance (welfare) and was named the "welfare queen" by none other than President Ronald Reagan. He used her story to convince the public that all recipients of federal/state assistance were cheats and frauds and revamped the system to conform to the conservatism of the times. The book covers the 50 years of her convoluted life, until her death in 2002 while confined to a state mental health facility. Well done and recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    "But I always managed somehow, to drive a brand-new Cadillac . . ." -- lyrics from the song Welfare Cadillac by Guy Drake (1970) Sports and technology journalist / editor Josh Levin's excellent debut as a book author is a triple-threat of a story, combining near-equal parts true crime, politics, and sociology. The unemployed "Welfare Queen" mother known as Linda Taylor - although she was actually born Martha White, and additionally had scores of aliases throughout her life - was briefly a househo "But I always managed somehow, to drive a brand-new Cadillac . . ." -- lyrics from the song Welfare Cadillac by Guy Drake (1970) Sports and technology journalist / editor Josh Levin's excellent debut as a book author is a triple-threat of a story, combining near-equal parts true crime, politics, and sociology. The unemployed "Welfare Queen" mother known as Linda Taylor - although she was actually born Martha White, and additionally had scores of aliases throughout her life - was briefly a household name in the mid-to-late 70's. She gained notoriety for the discovery (due to some good police work by a dogged but also modest Chicago PD investigator) of her years-long shady bilking of the welfare system in Illinois and Michigan. She was so proficient in her scamming that she owned multiple vehicles and residences from the $50,000+ she improperly obtained from government aid just in the Chicago area. During and after her prosecution and imprisonment she was of course demonized by the political right, best exemplified by presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's derisive mention of her in his many speeches. But was there more to Taylor? Absolutely - in a few good but mostly very bad ways. Taylor was not just a repeat con artist-type thief but a burglar, a child kidnapper, and very possibly a murderer (in three separate incidents), too. The trail of her activities - from her first arrest in 1944 until her final one 50 years later (!) - indicates this was likely one stone-cold unrepentant and irredeemable person. Yet author Levin delves deeply as possible into Taylor's checkered past, and while not letting her off the hook there are some nature vs. nurture elements in her troubled and unusual childhood which may partially explain why she chose her path in life. You won't come away forgiving or condoning this woman's law-breaking actions, but it does offer a shred of understanding to her criminal career.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest A lot of us are familiar with the phrase, "Welfare Queen." It's a phrase conservative people like to toss around as a reason to deny people food stamps or government-subsidized care, because low-income people might use the tax dollars to buy caviar and a yacht. Never mind the fact that it's actually pretty difficult to defraud most food programs, especially SNAP (having worked in retail), where registers will not even let you ring up no Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest A lot of us are familiar with the phrase, "Welfare Queen." It's a phrase conservative people like to toss around as a reason to deny people food stamps or government-subsidized care, because low-income people might use the tax dollars to buy caviar and a yacht. Never mind the fact that it's actually pretty difficult to defraud most food programs, especially SNAP (having worked in retail), where registers will not even let you ring up non-eligible items. THE QUEEN is about the woman who contributed to the coining of the phrase, and ironically, the welfare fraud was the least of her crimes. Racism got her on the hook for the crimes but, even more ironically, racism prevented her from being charged for the more serious of what she did-- potential murder, estate fraud, and even kidnapping. Linda Taylor was an ethnically ambiguous woman who was operating under multiple aliases, laying claim to various ethnic heritage, and had numerous spouses and children-- imaginary and not-- in order to get thousands of dollars from the government, and live an outrageous and incredible lifestyle. I was surprised by the length of this book (almost 400 pages with the bibliography and the sources), and wondered how this woman's life and crimes could possibly fill a whole book. The first half is pretty good and it's clear how much time and effort Josh Levin poured in to researching THE QUEEN, from the police officer who helped bring her down, to Ronald Reagan's staunchly adversarial approach to government aid, to Linda Taylor herself, a woman who was easy to paint as the villain to an aggrieved populace that was becoming increasingly aware of the wage disparity between the top earners and the bottom earners as poverty itself became a partisan issue. Linda Taylor is a fascinating individual and while I don't support what she did at all, it was interesting to see how she was able to get away with her crimes. Social media has allowed for a different kind of fraud, so it was kind of eye-opening to see that people have been doing such scams for years, albeit in a different way (and maybe in a way that was slower to catch without the instantaneous nature of the internet). She played cat and mouse with the newspaper reporters and the detectives chasing her in plain sight for years, seemingly assured that she would never face any real consequences, and the public interest in her case ended up making her a byword for people who were willing to cheat the system and a scapegoat for the crime to satisfy a xenophobic and tight-fisted population. The second half of the book is much slower, as it's about Linda Taylor's actual history, childhood, and then, later, her life after the trial that ended up making her (in)famous. This part was dull and felt more like an opportunity for the author to show off his research, and was not very interesting or engaging. THE QUEEN could have been a much shorter book, and a much more effective book because of it, but instead, Levin chose to draw things out and ruin the effect he started with the first half of THE QUEEN. I ended the book feeling dissatisfied and bored. Overall, I would say that this is an interesting glimpse into the 1960s/70s, as well as the inherent racism that was still quite prominent in the system, and it gives the story behind one of the go-to dog-whistling terms that is thrown around to this day with the relevant historical context removed. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!    2 stars

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    Before getting into this review, it is perhaps important to emphasize that I in no way sympathize with the subject of this book. Linda Taylor cheated the state of Illinois and the federal government out of an untold amount of money over 50 years of criminal activity. She was a habitual liar, child trafficker, kidnapper, manipulator, con artist, and quite possibly a murderer as well. She may very well be one of the more reprehensible people I’ve read about in a long time. And yet…. For all the Before getting into this review, it is perhaps important to emphasize that I in no way sympathize with the subject of this book. Linda Taylor cheated the state of Illinois and the federal government out of an untold amount of money over 50 years of criminal activity. She was a habitual liar, child trafficker, kidnapper, manipulator, con artist, and quite possibly a murderer as well. She may very well be one of the more reprehensible people I’ve read about in a long time. And yet…. For all the aforementioned crimes, they all went mostly unnoticed during the mid 1970’s in a heated Republican presidential primary with the exception of one. Linda Taylor became the “Welfare Queen”. Without her name being mentioned personally, then candidate Ronald Reagan and the Republican party took the admittedly shameless exploits of one woman and made her into a symbol of poor Blacks ripping off the system (i.e. white people). Wherever Reagan went he would evoke “the woman in Chicago with 100 aliases, 30 addresses, and 14 children who has stolen 150,000 dollars”. That Taylor had closer to 10 aliases, a handful of fake addresses, somewhere around 7-8 children (some not her own which she used to defraud the government), and had stolen an indeterminate amount of money doesn’t excuse her behavior, but they didn’t match Reagan’s incendiary claims or represent the millions who relied on welfare for their survival. Of course having even slight factual claims to hold up Taylor as the system’s rule rather than its exception gave Reagan license to make up other stories wholesale from around the country, all in coded language to remind white voters what poor blacks were doing to them. When he would be called on these claims he would always come back to “The woman in Chicago….” Taylor for her part was no shrinking violet. Rather, she was the textbook definition of audacity. Leaving the courthouse and going directly to rob a former roommate in broad daylight is one example that comes to mind (who does that?!), forcibly confining an old woman (and possibly murdering her to steal her dead husband’s pension) is another. Taylor with her cadilacs, furs, and outlandish hats, seemed to symbolize everything opportunistic politicians and White America saw wrong with welfare and the Black faces they were told were abusing it. That she was a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer as well didn’t interest anyone. She was Black and gaming the system at your expense. That is all that mattered. That the majority of welfare recipients were White and poor was immaterial. Reagan was able to use the outrage her case generated and fan the flames of racial and class animosity to his political advantage. This however is ultimately the story of a changing America where sympathy for the most needy began to erode and politicians looking to exploit the sentiment attached hitched their wagons to a shameless, corrupt, and flamboyant con woman. It is a story with few heroes, and rife with odious villains. It is a story of greed, excess, lies, racial animus, and the very worst of what America can be when it is fed endless news cycles of fear and hate. It is a fascinating story without a doubt but one that, while over 40 years old, seems all too familiar.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Linda Taylor, who from any point of view had no ethical compass whatsoever, managed with little accountability to live an entire life rife with crime, her welfare scams being the least of her actions. She became a tool for the Reagan administration, held up to the public as the embodiment of fraud, thusly demonizing actual poverty stricken black women in the eyes of the voting public. I went into this thinking I'd read about a scoundrel, a rascal, someone who could on some level be sympathized w Linda Taylor, who from any point of view had no ethical compass whatsoever, managed with little accountability to live an entire life rife with crime, her welfare scams being the least of her actions. She became a tool for the Reagan administration, held up to the public as the embodiment of fraud, thusly demonizing actual poverty stricken black women in the eyes of the voting public. I went into this thinking I'd read about a scoundrel, a rascal, someone who could on some level be sympathized with. No. She was an opportunist whose actions had far reaching consequences, and who never expressed any remorse for the fallout that ensued.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    During Ronald Reagan’s original run for President of the United States, he routinely lamented the “Welfare Queen” by pointing to a Chicago woman who lived an extravagant lifestyle while collecting public assistance from the hardworking taxpayers of Illinois. Over 100 aliases. Dozens of addresses. Numerous children. $150,000 in stolen aid. For a time in the 1970s, Linda Taylor was a notorious flash in the pan— a symbol embraced by a political party to showcase everything wrong with welfare in the During Ronald Reagan’s original run for President of the United States, he routinely lamented the “Welfare Queen” by pointing to a Chicago woman who lived an extravagant lifestyle while collecting public assistance from the hardworking taxpayers of Illinois. Over 100 aliases. Dozens of addresses. Numerous children. $150,000 in stolen aid. For a time in the 1970s, Linda Taylor was a notorious flash in the pan— a symbol embraced by a political party to showcase everything wrong with welfare in the U.S. But for all of Reagan’s harbingering an uprising of low income individuals scamming their way to excess, his prime example, though often a heinous person, was more fiction than fact. In The Queen, Josh Levin explores the complicated life of Linda Taylor, the Welfare Queen. Linda Taylor was not an easy or even a particularly good person. She never passed a grift she didn’t like. From applying for assistance under various aliases to filing false insurance claims, Taylor’s exploits are frustrating. Yet her exploitation of bureaucratic public systems almost pales in comparison to Reagan’s fabulist use of her story to sell a political movement that caused severe damage to the welfare system for decades. Levin captures this by not approaching Taylor from purely a biographical perspective. To do so would create nothing but an unsympathetic portrait. Rather, while providing a compelling narrative about her life, Levin juggles political analysis and true crime to create a broader societal reflection. That’s not to suggest that Taylor comes across as anything better than awful. Even under the intense scrutiny her public trial received in the 1970s, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for her actions. Yet, when Levin finally gets around to examining her further criminal activity in the second half of the book — including abuse and murder — more ire should be focused on the politicians and pundits mentioned. After all, they used Taylor to craft a moral war on the poor yet dropped her from headlines even as she committed more heinous acts. It was never about her, but rather, what they wanted her to symbolize. Through impeccable research and a captivating subject, Levin has crafted a well-considered look at a true American myth. Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley. Review also posted at https://pluckedfromthestacks.wordpres...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Abby Morris

    This book was excellent. I am blown away by the skill it took to write a book about a real person that you absolutely despise and also sympathize with. Yes, this woman is a con artist and a criminal. But Levin turned the questions back to the reader about what we have done as a people to create situations like these. The nation goes into panic at a welfare cheat, but not that children in our country go hungry everyday. The story isn’t really about Linda Taylor at all. It is about us.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Monte Price

    I'm not going to give this a rating because I'm not really sure what to make of it. I think that overall the story of Linda Taylor is most certainly interesting; the actual things she did, the life she created for herself, and the life that politicians used to craft a racist narrative around welfare recipients. I think that the book does a nice job of highlighting the things that fall into each of those categories, and the audio at least, does a nice job of making that information easily digeste I'm not going to give this a rating because I'm not really sure what to make of it. I think that overall the story of Linda Taylor is most certainly interesting; the actual things she did, the life she created for herself, and the life that politicians used to craft a racist narrative around welfare recipients. I think that the book does a nice job of highlighting the things that fall into each of those categories, and the audio at least, does a nice job of making that information easily digested. I think that the method in which the book is told, with the first third or so of the book focusing on the welfare fraud and then the rest split between her early life and the life she led after her infamous welfare fraud, works as best as it can when constructed in that way. I'm not sure that the book would work if told in a linear format, but adjusting to how the story was told did take a moment to get used to. Overall I would say that I enjoyed the book and I did learn a lot, but I'm not sure how much this book really is for everyone.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    I've waited a bit to respond to my reading of this book. It's disturbing. And, it took me awhile to catch on to what the overarching point of the book may be. Feeling like I missed the markers always turns a regular read into a disconcerting one. . . .I wonder if throwing me off base was an authorial choice or just user error. Both are uncomfortable. A lot of time is spent at the book's outset to tell the story of Linda Taylor (aka a million other akas), who was born of a white mother in the Sout I've waited a bit to respond to my reading of this book. It's disturbing. And, it took me awhile to catch on to what the overarching point of the book may be. Feeling like I missed the markers always turns a regular read into a disconcerting one. . . .I wonder if throwing me off base was an authorial choice or just user error. Both are uncomfortable. A lot of time is spent at the book's outset to tell the story of Linda Taylor (aka a million other akas), who was born of a white mother in the South as Martha White and who may or may not have had a black father. She was a scammer, kidnapper and most likely a repeat murderer. I remember hearing of her in the Reagan days. The more detailed recounting of her life's activities in this book is long. Just about every day of her sad adventures as a pirate is recounted. So. sad. The author's kept-on-the-down-low outrage only begins to shine through at this point in the narrative. The rub seems to be: That this criminal should become a political tool in an election bid (and win) as a welfare queen when that was, if not the least of her crimes, at least hangs on a much lower rung of the Outrage Ladder. Refocusing certain social ills to fit a particular political hot button is not new. . .in fact, it's even more prevalent. To right this wrong is the point of the book. She shouldn't be regarded as a welfare queen - her crimes were larger, they were systemic and the fault lies within our society and the way we choose to tolerate the body politic, going back generations upon generations. The smell of it is deep down in the very warp and weft of our societal fabric. About halfway through the book, the larger point starts to be considered as the origin story of this woman unfolds. . . .background on grandparents, parents and then her early years and and how she was discarded as an infant, and then throughout all of the growing up she was allowed - to her first birth at age 14. Pretty darn young to move to the adult category, and traumatic on the mother and baby, both, where mothering is subject to the world full of what is unknown rather than what is known. The message I got, rightly or wrongly, is that holding society at large as the biggest influence on how this woman was shaped and led to the paths she chose by the myriad disadvantages rained down upon her and that basically, you get what you pay for and expect more of the same. Shame on us. Make a change. She really was a clever and smart person - and probably, given other opportunities, and consistent loving support from a family or similar group, an entirely different book could have been written of her life's work. Instead, Martha / Linda is the subject of a cautionary tale, a myth, a legend. Something that is held up that probably started with an entirely different reality, but was spun into a threatening untruth repeatedly presented to shape behavior and justify punitive measures taken. The book is thought-provoking and about 25% too long. My overwhelming response reading-wise is to jump into something with a happy ending, or a how-to-book where I can impose some control on my environment. 3 pensive stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth is a fascinating blend of history, biography, and true crime. It follows the colorful life of "Linda Taylor," a woman who changed race, names, and personas so many times that towards the end of her life, Levin questioned whether she even knew who she was. Even her husband and children didn't know the real her. Her many crimes and aliases eventually brought her under the scrutinizing eye of Chicago detective Jack Sherwin, somewhat ironically af The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth is a fascinating blend of history, biography, and true crime. It follows the colorful life of "Linda Taylor," a woman who changed race, names, and personas so many times that towards the end of her life, Levin questioned whether she even knew who she was. Even her husband and children didn't know the real her. Her many crimes and aliases eventually brought her under the scrutinizing eye of Chicago detective Jack Sherwin, somewhat ironically after Taylor herself claimed that she had been robbed of $14,000 worth of items at her home, none of which she could prove that she had owned in the first place. This investigation led to other crimes she was tied to. But he uncovers a fascinating story that was front page news in the 1980s. Regan got wind of her various aliases and welfare fraud in the run up to his presidential campaign and even though he grossly overestimated both her number of aliases and the amount of fraud that could be proven in court, that could not prevent him from referring to America's "welfare queen" at every opportunity. Even when questioned by the press or confronted with his troubling history of racist tendencies, he did not back down from his claims and was greatly offended by the insinuation that he was racist. The president and the law were only interested in politically useful criminality. Eventually Taylor became forgotten over time but her "welfare queen" stereotype lived on and became a lightening rod over which the left and the right fought. I take issue with The New York Times’ Paul Krugman's statement claiming that “the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen [was] a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud.” Taylor's crimes were documented from her teens through the end of her life and fraud was among the least egregious of her suspected crimes which included cruelty towards animals, children, and incapacitated adults, the slow killing of adults, as well as kidnapping and selling of babies and children. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews as well as Taylor's husband claims that Taylor's story is racist balderdash, a claim that is questionable and inadequate, at best. Taylor had a difficult upbringing but it doesn't excuse her pathological lying and scheming, making others a victim while claiming to be a victim herself. Taylor was an inveterate fabulist. Psychologists couldn’t even determine the truth about her sanity. If you enjoy history, biography, or true crime, I'd recommend this book. Trigger warnings for child abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse, and abuse of an incapacitated adult.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I wanted this to be more of a socio-political look at welfare and race, and it did include that, but it was 90% true crime details of a con artist's life. True crime is so boring! I liked the portrayal of shitty presidents being all anti welfare. Linda Taylor, the "welfare queen," was a terrible human and there isn't much nuance to her character, but somehow I still wanted to root for her cheating a system that cheated her? I liked the frank history of racism in the Midwest and the South and how I wanted this to be more of a socio-political look at welfare and race, and it did include that, but it was 90% true crime details of a con artist's life. True crime is so boring! I liked the portrayal of shitty presidents being all anti welfare. Linda Taylor, the "welfare queen," was a terrible human and there isn't much nuance to her character, but somehow I still wanted to root for her cheating a system that cheated her? I liked the frank history of racism in the Midwest and the South and how that affected Linda and the people she interacted with. Overall though, I was just bored.

  15. 4 out of 5

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    The Queen is a fascinating book revealing the life and crimes of Linda Taylor, a Chicago woman who spawned the myth of the infamous welfare queen. While Taylor was undoubtedly a welfare cheat, she was also a kidnapper and perhaps even a murderer... but the welfare fraud was the only thing anyone seemed to care about. I think it's safe to say it's unlikely to live in America without ever hearing the phrase "welfare queen". As soon as the topic of welfare programs is raised online, dozens of angry The Queen is a fascinating book revealing the life and crimes of Linda Taylor, a Chicago woman who spawned the myth of the infamous welfare queen. While Taylor was undoubtedly a welfare cheat, she was also a kidnapper and perhaps even a murderer... but the welfare fraud was the only thing anyone seemed to care about. I think it's safe to say it's unlikely to live in America without ever hearing the phrase "welfare queen". As soon as the topic of welfare programs is raised online, dozens of angry people rush in to talk about people who are cheating the system, and sooner or later, someone will throw out the derogatory term. Having seen it hundreds of times over the years, I often wondered if there was any truth behind the phrase or not.... which is why it was important to me to read this book. It's impossible to briefly touch on all the crimes committed by Linda Taylor (one of her many aliases) in this review. Suffice to say it was shocking to see how the least of her crimes garnered the most attention, and disheartening to know how the mythos of the welfare queen lingers on, engendering distrust of the poor and, particularly, poor people of color. The Queen is well-researched and written in an easy-to-read style. Simultaneously intriguing and disturbing, the life and crimes of Linda Taylor will linger in your memory for quite some time. I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

  17. 5 out of 5

    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!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Toni

    3.5 stars Anyone who remembers or has read/studied anything on the era of "welfare reform" - ie. the destruction of federal welfare (AFDC) in favor of state-run welfare grants (TANF) - knows that the rhetoric surrounding this particular sea change was steeped in racism and misogyny. At the apex of this storm, the Reagan administration glommed onto the story of one woman who managed, on the face of things, to embody the straw-woman the Republicans had been describing for years, dubbing her the "We 3.5 stars Anyone who remembers or has read/studied anything on the era of "welfare reform" - ie. the destruction of federal welfare (AFDC) in favor of state-run welfare grants (TANF) - knows that the rhetoric surrounding this particular sea change was steeped in racism and misogyny. At the apex of this storm, the Reagan administration glommed onto the story of one woman who managed, on the face of things, to embody the straw-woman the Republicans had been describing for years, dubbing her the "Welfare Queen" for her seeming ability to bilk the welfare system to the high life in Cadillacs and furs. Levin's book takes a closer look at the woman who bore the moniker, Linda Taylor (or Connie Walker, or Martha Louise Miller, or whatever other names she was going by during any one of her particular scams). Taylor was a con woman, a shape-shifter who managed to change identities, race, names, etc. to fit the bill of whatever goods she was trying to sell in the moment. Levin's account illuminates the facts of a very difficult and complicated life, and seemingly illustrates that her claim to fame as the welfare queen may have been the least of the crimes she perpetrated in her lifetime, of which there may have been kidnapping and murder. This is a well researched and EXHAUSTIVE account of Linda Taylor's life. Levin is a great journalist and dives very deep here, encompassing a lot of the racial and socio-economic background of the day that played a role in galvanizing the story of the welfare queen for the masses. In part, however, it is this deep dive that made this book drag for me. Levin details so much of the lives of even the most tangential players that I couldn't help feeling a bit like I was losing the forest for the trees. At its heart, the book is a true crime book, and I think I was hoping for a bit more of a critique on the racism and sexism that permeated the administration that used this woman's tale as fodder for a disastrous political end. The destruction of welfare as we knew it was a horrible milestone in our history based on false testimonies and fantasies of a corrupt and blind group of mostly white men with vast power. The fact that they used the life of a woman of color as a means to an end should have been more heavily critiqued, in my opinion. In general, I feel like this whole story would have been better served as a more concise magazine serial than a book. Still, it is fascinating and worth a look.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dee Dee G

    This book is fascinating and just.....nuts. There’s so much in here that I had to take my time reading it. It seemed a bit choppy. Overall pretty good though.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Val

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. This book tells the story of probably the most vile, despicable person I have ever heard of. She was far more than a simple welfare cheat, she was a self-aggrandizing liar who would, and did, stop at absolutely nothing to gain what she felt she deserved. Josh Levin has done a heroic job of research to write a mind-boggling story that staggers the imagination.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Thanks to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s, Linda Taylor anonymously embodied a scapegoat for Americans desperate for one. Times were rough in America and President Jimmy Carter was encouraging Americans to examine our own lives to find our collective path through. Reagan understood America better - we preferred to find someone else to blame. Enter "the welfare queen." According to Reagan, America's problems were due to the "welfare state," and hard-working Americans were pa Thanks to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s, Linda Taylor anonymously embodied a scapegoat for Americans desperate for one. Times were rough in America and President Jimmy Carter was encouraging Americans to examine our own lives to find our collective path through. Reagan understood America better - we preferred to find someone else to blame. Enter "the welfare queen." According to Reagan, America's problems were due to the "welfare state," and hard-working Americans were paying able-bodied but shiftless Americans not to work. And one woman used dozens of aliases, fake kids, and other lies to live a life of luxury - *she* was to blame for our problems. Reagan didn't really need to say the "And she's Black" part out loud for Americans to understand what he meant. And, as Josh Levin's well-researched book, "The Queen," Linda Taylor did indeed commit fraud against the welfare system. But the truth is that while her welfare fraud was much more modest than Reagan's political fable indicated, Taylor lived a life seemingly dedicated to stealing from and lying to everyone she met, including (and perhaps most often) to friends and family. Linda Taylor's life is simultaneously staggering and frustrating. Born in Jim Crow America and of mixed race, Taylor lived a life in limbo. While she could "pass" for various races, usually that was limited another race - a Black person might see Taylor as White, but she could not really pass as White to White America . . . and vice versa. Poor, fatherless, uneducated and greedy as a Trump, Taylor seemed dedicated to gain riches by any means possible. In addition to welfare fraud, she committed insurance fraud, stole property, swindled cash, and perhaps even stole babies and even committed murder. Levin does an amazing job keeping track of a woman who bounced all over the country, often under the radar, but whose willingness to commit crimes kept bringing her back into public view. While certain passages can leave you with your jaw on the floor (and that includes some incidents of the casual racism of 20th century America), ultimately the book is frustrating because we never get inside Taylor's head. When she dies, pathetically, in her 70s in an institution, she is just as opaque as she was on page 1. Mental health professionals disagreed about her mental state, and investigators never really pinned a true accounting of her activities on her. And so "The Queen" ends with a frustrating, sad fade-to-black. Taylor's life and story, which had so much potential, ultimately amounts to very little . . . as she is just beyond comprehension. Levin's story is worth reading, but more to understand the America that made someone like Taylor possible than for Taylor herself. The stories of bureaucratic snafus, political grandstanding, and the 'underclass' culture are the highlights of this book. Recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    This was interesting and horrifying in equal measure. The generational abuse detailed was awful to read, as was the racism from so many different levels of society. Linda Taylor is a complicated figure; it's hard to argue that someone who almost certainly murdered multiple people and who kidnapped children is deserving of sympathy, but her family's reaction to a blameless child of an affair between a white woman and a black man, is equally wrong. This will stay with me for awhile. This was interesting and horrifying in equal measure. The generational abuse detailed was awful to read, as was the racism from so many different levels of society. Linda Taylor is a complicated figure; it's hard to argue that someone who almost certainly murdered multiple people and who kidnapped children is deserving of sympathy, but her family's reaction to a blameless child of an affair between a white woman and a black man, is equally wrong. This will stay with me for awhile.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Kinn

    Delightful and highly recommended. I would have finished the book earlier if I had not been working and parenting in a pandemic. I listen to Josh Levin's podcast on the Slate network . The podcast is about sports and is called Hang Up and Listen. This book is not about sports, but is a straight biography of an obscure figure in American politics. Levin has been in the Slate universe for years, and this book came out of an article that he wrote for Slate several years ago. If you haven't seen his Delightful and highly recommended. I would have finished the book earlier if I had not been working and parenting in a pandemic. I listen to Josh Levin's podcast on the Slate network . The podcast is about sports and is called Hang Up and Listen. This book is not about sports, but is a straight biography of an obscure figure in American politics. Levin has been in the Slate universe for years, and this book came out of an article that he wrote for Slate several years ago. If you haven't seen his picture, you must. He's got prominent mutton chops. Linda Taylor is really Martha Louise White, born in Golddust, Tennesse in 1926. And she lived in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s and got some Aid to Families with Dependent Children under some different names. Eventually the state was able to prove she had gotten about $10,000 wrongfully. When Ronald Reagan ran for the Republican nomination in 1976, his team had to devise a strategy to win over new Southern Republicans who had voted for Wallace in 1968 and 1972 -- while not turning off progressive Republicans in the North with outright racism. So Reagan -- and his team -- decided to focus on welfare abuse. At that time, highlighting welfare abuse was an extraordinarily popular political position. Up to 85% of the general population thought that welfare was too generous or that the welfare system was rife with fraud. So, in 1976 stump speeches, Reagan highlighted "a woman in Chicago" who allegedly had over a hundred different aliases and stole over $150,000 in public funds. Linda Taylor was that woman. Reagan's anecdotes regarding her were lies, and this book explores from whence those lies came. I was a teenager when Ronald Reagan was president, and I remember him as this slow, old man who spoke smoothly and poetically. But he wasn't that in 1976 -- he was glad to seize on the myth of the Welfare Queen and turn it to his advantage, and his willingness to exaggerate and demonize individuals and whole classes of people is reminiscent of our current president. The thing is, Linda Taylor was actually a horrible human being, and welfare fraud was among the lesser of her sins against the human race. She tricked a lot of people, and took advantage of many, even in her own family. She had an amazing ability to reinvent herself and convince others that she was what she was not. Because Taylor is an obscure figure, this book represents a lot of research, including a lot of first-hand interviews done by the author. The documents regarding Linda Taylor are not easy to find -- especially so because the search needs to be duplicated for her many, many aliases. Levin's efforts really pay off in this entertaining tale.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is a story about welfare and possibly the most famous criminal in the United States, at least for a time. In the late 1970's, there was a woman that I will just call Linda Taylor who managed to cheat the US welfare system out of a lot of money. She used this money to buy Cadillacs, furs, fancy houses, fancy furniture and whatnot. She was able to do this by using 80+ different names, many different children, different social security numbers, and filing in different states. In so doing, she This is a story about welfare and possibly the most famous criminal in the United States, at least for a time. In the late 1970's, there was a woman that I will just call Linda Taylor who managed to cheat the US welfare system out of a lot of money. She used this money to buy Cadillacs, furs, fancy houses, fancy furniture and whatnot. She was able to do this by using 80+ different names, many different children, different social security numbers, and filing in different states. In so doing, she managed to attract the attention of a detective intent on taking her down, and a journalist who wrote a few front-page stories about her, which in turn attracted the attention of the man who would become president, Ronald Reagan, who dubbed her "the Welfare Queen" and told people about her story while he was out campaigning. This book tells the whole bio of Linda Taylor and lets you the reader decide what her real name probably was. The author also pretty much gives a bio of the welfare system in America from it's beginnings through President Clinton and TANF. He also tells you all about all of the other crimes that Linda likely had a hand in which include (bur are not limited to): kidnapping, child neglect, cattle rustling, theft, murder, and various con games and ever-popular fraud. Linda was one talented chameleon, I'll give her that. But I wouldn't leave her alone in a room with my children or my checkbook. I enjoyed reading this.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    As a child growing up in the 1980s, President Reagan was the underdog former actor who rose to the highest position in the US and was joked about in Back to the Future. As an adult working in an urban library, I came to loathe the man for his idiotic policies that defunded mental health services and put the burden of "babysitting" the mentally ill on those of us in public service who were ill equipped to deal with the disorders of people who thronged to libraries because there was nowhere else f As a child growing up in the 1980s, President Reagan was the underdog former actor who rose to the highest position in the US and was joked about in Back to the Future. As an adult working in an urban library, I came to loathe the man for his idiotic policies that defunded mental health services and put the burden of "babysitting" the mentally ill on those of us in public service who were ill equipped to deal with the disorders of people who thronged to libraries because there was nowhere else for them to go during the day. After reading this book, I now understand fully why Donald Trump wanted to be "the next Reagan." Their racism and disdain for the poor are the same. The only difference is that Trump loves Russia and has instead singled out China as the enemy. "Linda Taylor," aka the "Welfare Queen" grew up in a system that didn't tolerate mixed race well. She likely suffered from some sort of compulsive lying and sociopathic disorder, as even her lawyers couldn't control the stories she would spin on the stand. She hurt pretty much everyone who had entered her life, from her mother's family, to her many husbands, and even her children. She directly or indirectly caused the deaths of at least 3 people. She made threats of violence. And, yes, she stole a bunch of federal money through welfare fraud. But put in context of the social burden placed on this woman and the lack of resources available to help her mental health, is it any wonder that she ended up this way? It was good to see the parallel with politics because this woman's story makes more sense against the backdrop of the climate of poor-shaming and anti-black movements of the 1970s-1990s. People who don't want to hear complaints against Donald Trump often counter, "Well, what about Clinton?" Yeah, he wasn't any better. Politicians aren't always opposite sides of the coin just because they are on opposite sides of the aisle. So much to process from this book, and I'm glad I read it now in a time of social upheaval that will hopefully bring about social change. When we start taking one person's experience and turning it into the experience of an entire group of people, we sell everyone short.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Josh Levin’s “The Queen” is Abagnale’s “Catch Me if You Can” meets Larson’s “The Devil in the White City”. I was completely fascinated by the book’s subject, the legendary ‘welfare queen’ Linda Taylor, who was a con artist, a cheat, a kidnapper, an alleged murderer, captivated by the story of how she inadvertently became the centre of polarizing national discourse regarding the state of the welfare system, poverty and social assistance programs, that was harnessed by Ronald Reagan and ultimately Josh Levin’s “The Queen” is Abagnale’s “Catch Me if You Can” meets Larson’s “The Devil in the White City”. I was completely fascinated by the book’s subject, the legendary ‘welfare queen’ Linda Taylor, who was a con artist, a cheat, a kidnapper, an alleged murderer, captivated by the story of how she inadvertently became the centre of polarizing national discourse regarding the state of the welfare system, poverty and social assistance programs, that was harnessed by Ronald Reagan and ultimately helped to propel him to the presidency. I loved the structure of the book, bouncing between detailing the altogether puzzling and ingenious strategies employed by Linda Taylor to cheat the system, describing the dogged investigations of multiple police officers to bring her to justice over the years, and especially discussing how her story was used to wield political advantage, to the unfortunate detriment of those of colour and low socioeconomic status. Halfway through, it felt like the story was winding down to a satisfying conclusion. Then suddenly, Josh Levin finds a way to inject a fresh new perspective on his subject, using the latter part of the book to speak to larger themes about closeted racism and classism, and how governing political systems ultimately create problems that they conveniently choose to ignore or decide to cast blame elsewhere; and there are always people, sadly those of low socioeconomic status, that end up losing the most. The last part The Queen does feel slightly bloated and repetitive, but it concludes in a way that is so strange and droll, completely appropriate for its subject’s enigmatic life. As well, after finishing, I couldn’t help but think that the book’s release is so timely - one could replace “stop welfare” and Reagan with the present “build a border wall” and Trump - history always has a way of repeating itself.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    A fascinating look into the life of a deeply disturbed woman whose claim to fame was being “The Welfare Queen.” In the early 1970’s, welfare fraud came to be the ultimate crime in America. Linda Taylor, a woman of mixed race born into poverty in the Deep South became the poster child of the City of Chicago’s war against those who bled the system for their own benefit. In spite of her well-published crimes against Aid to Dependent Families, Linda was convicted of very few crimes and only spent tw A fascinating look into the life of a deeply disturbed woman whose claim to fame was being “The Welfare Queen.” In the early 1970’s, welfare fraud came to be the ultimate crime in America. Linda Taylor, a woman of mixed race born into poverty in the Deep South became the poster child of the City of Chicago’s war against those who bled the system for their own benefit. In spite of her well-published crimes against Aid to Dependent Families, Linda was convicted of very few crimes and only spent two years in an Illinois prison. More interesting, this book chronicles her pathetic upbringing with a mother who cared nothing for her children and palmed them off on relatives or strangers, her complete lack of education, her missing and never identified father, and a family struggling to survive as share-croppers. Linda left home at an early age to fend for herself by stealing, prostitution, and working the system for all it was worth. More disturbing is the failure of the “system” or law enforcement, from local police to the FBI, to perform an exhaustive investigation of her crimes and habits. She regularly stole benefits money from people who considered her their friend, as well as family members who got caught up in her orbit. She is suspected of kidnapping and trafficking children for her various schemes. She was also implicated in three deaths, none of which were ever investigated. How did this woman spend 70+ years on the wrong side of the law and never be prosecuted for her crimes? This is the bone chilling story of a woman completely left to her own devices and the horrible consequences of this neglect.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I know it's going to sound unfair, but I took a star off because this book wound up ticking me off. The writing was excellent, and the research was impeccable (75 pages of endnotes). The main thing that got up my nose was how Linda Taylor, the woman for whom Ronald Reagan coined the term "welfare queen" was viewed as having committed a greater crime via welfare fraud than for being a solid suspect in at least two murders. The book examines Taylor's numerous grifts, including selling children in b I know it's going to sound unfair, but I took a star off because this book wound up ticking me off. The writing was excellent, and the research was impeccable (75 pages of endnotes). The main thing that got up my nose was how Linda Taylor, the woman for whom Ronald Reagan coined the term "welfare queen" was viewed as having committed a greater crime via welfare fraud than for being a solid suspect in at least two murders. The book examines Taylor's numerous grifts, including selling children in black market adoptions, and more. It's a fascinating true crime account in and of itself. But ... and this is a big one ... the fact that those who are down and out are maligned if they receive welfare and have enough pride to dress nicely or save up their food stamps to buy a treat harkens back to this one individual whom Reagan used as his scapegoat. The author takes a fair and balanced look at both the law enforcement officers who trailed Taylor through her crimes (while ignoring larger ones in order to focus on the welfare fraud), and at Taylor and those around her. He doesn't take sides, other than to point out that welfare fraud was relatively negligible (as it still is) and that other crimes Taylor committed were of far greater import. If you are interested in true crime, this may be right up your alley. If you just want support for your prejudices, maybe this isn't the book for you.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    A damning portrait of how a nation's racial prejudices reverberate through generations, personally and politically. Linda Taylor, who grew up a literal outcast without an education because of her racial makeup, is known to us, historically mostly namelessly, because she was demonized for her admittedly significant welfare fraud, a "victimless crime," because it was politically useful, as a large swath of Americans feel deeply incensed by the thought that a person on "welfare" somewhere might be A damning portrait of how a nation's racial prejudices reverberate through generations, personally and politically. Linda Taylor, who grew up a literal outcast without an education because of her racial makeup, is known to us, historically mostly namelessly, because she was demonized for her admittedly significant welfare fraud, a "victimless crime," because it was politically useful, as a large swath of Americans feel deeply incensed by the thought that a person on "welfare" somewhere might be getting something that they Don't Deserve (polls cited in the book, in fact). Despite this notoriety, she escaped punishment for a number of other crimes with a definite victim in which she preyed on other people of color and on children, because she seems to have understood that a society that didn't really care about her would not care about those victims either. On some level, though she was eventually imprisoned, Taylor, at least in the portions of her life we can get a relatively close look at, succeeded in getting her material wants fulfilled through her strategies. But despite interviews with people who knew her, including some of her children, by the end of the book she remains somewhat unknowable - we never fully understand what, beyond material want, might have been driving her, whether she knew what she was doing was wrong, or even whether she always understood who she was.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John Spiller

    This book works on many levels: true crime, whodunit, social history, political science. Linda Taylor (her name at the time) became an archetype: the welfare cheat. She was a regular feature in Ronald Reagan's presidential stump speeches. While Taylor gained her greatest notoriety for falsely securing welfare benefits, her career in crime spanned over six decades and several states. Josh Levin does an almost superhuman job untangling the skeins of her bizarre life story. Born to mix raced parent This book works on many levels: true crime, whodunit, social history, political science. Linda Taylor (her name at the time) became an archetype: the welfare cheat. She was a regular feature in Ronald Reagan's presidential stump speeches. While Taylor gained her greatest notoriety for falsely securing welfare benefits, her career in crime spanned over six decades and several states. Josh Levin does an almost superhuman job untangling the skeins of her bizarre life story. Born to mix raced parents in the deep South at a time when mixed marriages were against the law and could result in lynching, Taylor picked up and discarded identities like a snake shedding its skin. She had a genius for finding people and institutions to defraud and possessed a willingness to say anything that suited her at the time and then reconciling the conflicting accounts when confronted with her lies. If her crimes were limited to cheating the government out of a couple of thousand dollars, her exploits would have had a rougish charm. Unfortunately, Taylor had no morals or conscience, and her crimes included child abuse, kidnapping, and murder. At the end of her life, her shape shifting ways literally drove her crazy. (And, yes, I am using the word "literally" correctly here.)

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