The Last Man to Know Everything

Troy Vettese in the Boston Review:

Mike Davis didn’t write his first book until his forties. He was too busy doing other things, from working in a slaughterhouse to running the Communist Party’s bookshop in Los Angeles (until he, an inveterate Trotskyist, threw out the Soviet cultural attaché). His late start as a scholar, however, has been compensated for by a deep reservoir of experiences to draw from and a swift pen: since writing his first book in 1986, he has published twenty more.

Not that he slowed down his extracurricular pursuits after he became a feted scholar. Over the last thirty years he has been a MacArthur and Getty fellow, the urban design commissioner of Pasadena, an advisor to the Crips (the Los Angeles gang), a university lecturer, Los Angeles’s most sought-after tour guide, a journalist, and an author of children’s science fiction. One hopes his latest book, Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory—a disparate collection of four essays on working-class history, nationalism, and the environment—will not be his last; the man needs to write a memoir. The only way to make sense of the new book’s blunderbuss array of topics is to know Davis’s vast scholarly corpus. Composed as it is of various strands drawn from his interests and experiences, which over the years have become ever more complex and tangled, it can only be ordered through intellectual biography.

More here.