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Ravi Malhotra and Benjamin Isitt

Mar 23, 2022

Able to Lead

Disablement, Radicalism, and the Political Life of E. T. Kingsley

University of British Columbia Press 2021

People with disabilities have always struggled to make ends meet. Finding a job you can actually do, a housing situation you can afford that meets your needs, and simply going about the various daily tasks most of us take for granted all compound to make life under capitalism especially challenging. This makes the many disabled people who not only rise to meet their life-circumstances but go beyond them particularly inspiring.

One such figure in this category would be E.T. Kingsley, a socialist activist at the turn of the 20th century. After an injury working on railway lines in Montana left him a double-amputee, Kingsley traveled west, first to California and then eventually to British Columbia where he would work as a political speaker, candidate for office, editor and writer in the radical left.

His life is the focus of the book under discussion today, Able to Lead: Disablement, Radicalism, and the Political Life of E.T. Kingsley (U British Columbia Press, 2021) coauthored by Ravi Malhotra and Benjamin Isitt. Pooling their combined academic backgrounds and intellectual resources, the authors are able to tease out a number of quiet yet profound elements of Kingsley’s life and times, from the legal status of injuries and workers compensation to discussions around freedom of speech and the changing nature of the security-state. In all this contextual discussion, the authors still never allow Kingsley to disappear as a dynamic and passionate activist, one who managed to stand as a unique example of what it means to tirelessly fight for a better world. Drawing from a number of fields, the book will be of interest to a number of people, from labor historians and disability activists to legal scholars and political theorists, showing us that even as we are flung into circumstances not of our choosing, we can still rise above our circumstances and change the world.

Ravi Malhotra is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. Benjamin Isitt is a historian and legal scholar based in Victoria, British Columbia.

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