An Unauthorized Biography of the World

An Unauthorized Biography of the World

Oral History on the Front Lines

By Michael Riordon


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An Unauthorized Biography of the World explores the practice of engaged oral history: the difficult, sometimes dangerous work of recovering fragments of human story that have gone missing from the official versions.

Michael Riordon has thirty years’ experience as a writer and broadcaster in the field. Readers will encounter a gallery of brave, passionate people who gather silenced voices and lost life stories. The canvas is broad, the stakes are high: the battles for First Nations lands in Canada; environmental justice in Chicago; genocide in Peru; homeless people organizing in Cleveland; September 11/01, and after, in New York City; gay survivors of electroshock in Britain; the struggle to preserve a people’s identity in Newfoundland; peasant resistance to a huge transnational gold mine in Turkey.

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Michael Riordon’s book represents oral history at its passionate best. Readers will find hope and inspiration in the pioneering work of activist oral historians across North America and beyond. Their remarkable stories tell us how oral history is bringing people together on the margins. Make no mistake, this fascinating book is no dry academic history.

– Steven High, Assistant Professor, Oral History, Nipissing University

Life is a rich choir of vibrant and varied voices. The silencing of these voices is crucial to the exploitation, degradation, and genocide that characterize the dominant culture. Michael Riordon does us all a great service by helping to amplify the voices of those so often silenced within this culture, and I thank him for this powerful contribution that will in help us remember and rejoin that choir.

– Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older than Words

Perhaps it is only in an unauthorized biography of oral history that we can discover its true heart, history and purpose. This wonderful book was written by one who understands oral history from the inside – and masterfully reveals its mission to articulate history’s silences.

– Mary Marshall Clark, Director, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, New York


Chapter 1 Ts'eouli/Floating Ashes (First Nations)
Chapter 2 The Gale Began to Rise (Newfoundland)
Chapter 3 The Messenger (Chicago)
Chapter 4 Umut/Hope (Turkey)
Chapter 5 Passion in the Archives
Chapter 6 9/11.01 (New York)
Chapter 7 9/11.01 + 2 (New York)
Chapter 8 History on the Floor (Labour)
Chapter 9 What Was Your Question? (Michael Riordon Interviewed)
Chapter 10 The Major and His Batman (Gay)
Chapter 11 A Really Tender One-Night Stand (Gay)
Chapter 12 The Whole Truth (Peru)
Chapter 13 Keep Asking Questions! (Cleveland)
Chapter 14 A Map of the Holy Land (Israel)