Alan Cheuse’s 1982 lyrical biography of John Reed is mistitled. While the title refers to Reed’s fellow travelers of the cultural and political upheaval that took place during the first decades of the 20th century, it is Reed’s life story that Cheuse has told no doubt because Reed in many respects was one of the main players in that era’s story.
Reed is best known for his Ten Days That Shook the World, the story of the Communist takeover of the Russian Revolution. Before travelling to Russia where he passed away in October 1920 from typhus, however, he had chronicled for alternative magazines like The Masses, the labor movement wars in the U.S. and the rise of the socialist movement in the U.S. He also wrote about and campaigned vigorously against U.S. involvement in World War I.
Cheuse’ fictionalized version relies heavily on Reed’s poetic output as well as the poetry and writings of his contemporaries. Doing so enables him to capture the essence of the time and of the man. I should note that Cheuse doesn’t sugarcoat Reed’s relationships with women––in particular with the wife with whom he had a tumultuous marriage, but in 1982 we weren’t yet judging the past solely by contemporary values. To obtain a clear picture of a complex man in an important period in America’s past, The Bohemians is a worthwhile read.