Taking It Big

C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals

Stanley Aronowitz

Columbia University Press

Taking It Big

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Pub Date: April 2014

ISBN: 9780231135412

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $32.00£27.00

Pub Date: July 2012

ISBN: 9780231135405

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£79.00

Pub Date: July 2012

ISBN: 9780231509503

288 Pages

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List Price: $31.99£27.00

Taking It Big

C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals

Stanley Aronowitz

Columbia University Press

C. Wright Mills (1916–1962) was a pathbreaking intellectual who transformed the independent American Left in the 1940s and 1950s. Often challenging the established ideologies and approaches of fellow leftist thinkers, Mills was central to creating and developing the idea of the "public intellectual" in postwar America and laid the political foundations for the rise of the New Left in the 1960s. Written by Stanley Aronowitz, a leading sociologist and critic of American culture and politics, Taking It Big reconstructs this icon's formation and the new dimension of American political life that followed his work.

Aronowitz revisits Mills's education and its role in shaping his outlook and intellectual restlessness. Mills defined himself as a maverick, and Aronowitz tests this claim (which has been challenged in recent years) against the work and thought of his contemporaries. Aronowitz describes Mills's growing circle of contacts among the New York Intellectuals and his efforts to reenergize the Left by encouraging a fundamentally new theoretical orientation centered on more ambitious critiques of U.S. society. Blurring the rigid boundaries among philosophy, history, and social theory and between traditional orthodoxies and the radical imagination, Mills became one of the most admired and controversial thinkers of his time and was instrumental in inspiring the student and antiwar movements of the 1960s. In this book, Aronowitz not only reclaims this critical thinker's reputation but also emphasizes his ongoing significance to debates on power in American democracy.

Stanley Aronowitz—himself a towering public intellectual—has written the definitive book on one of the towering public intellectuals of twentieth-century America. Don't miss it

Cornel West, Princeton University

Stanley Aronowitz tells a great story: the uniqueness of C. Wright Mills's trajectory through his time and the value of his work for ours. Mills's legacy is rich and timely and fully merits the kind of attention Aronowitz pays it. This book will reintroduce a whole generation of readers to ideas that were once everywhere and will give those ideas the concrete, stripped-down force they used to have.

Bruce Robbins, Columbia University

C. Wright Mills is perhaps sociology's clearest and best exemplar of a public intellectual. For more than fifty years, his work has sparked the enthusiasm of students and the commitment of scholars to a sociology that informs self-understanding and big social issues. In Taking It Big, Stanley Aronowitz puts Mills in context, identifies the theoretical perspective behind his classic works, and demonstrates Mills's intellectual relevance to today's politics.

Craig Calhoun, president, Social Science Research Council, and University Professor and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge, New York University

Rich in insight and scholarship.... Aronowitz has added positively to the literature on Mills and the American post-war Left with this fascinating study.

Paul Reynolds, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

Readers will find many rewards here, chief among them the insights of a sociologist who manages to capture Mill's energy and genius while maintaining a critical tone...Highly recommended.


A tour de force of public intellectual achievement on one of the world's most important thinkers

Working USA

The main value of the book is its contribution to the revival of interest in Mills and its encouragement to social scientists to follow Mills's project of studying "up" by addressing big theoretical problems and by identifying ways in which power operates.

Barbara A. Misztal, American Journal of Sociology

The book's broad scope and brilliant analyses of Mills's writings trump any of the existing overviews of his work.... This is indeed an invaluable addition to the existing literature.

Mel van Elteren, Journal of American Culture

Aronowitz has done an excellent job producing this intellectual and political biography of C. Wright Mills: it brings to life the thinking and courage of arguably one of the most important American-born theorists in sociology.

Kim Scipes, Logos
1. Mills's Sociology and Pragmatism
2. Mills and the New York Intellectuals
3. On Mills's The New Men of Power
4. White Collar
5. On Social Psychology and Its Historical Contexts: The Origin of Psychology as an Independent Discipline
6. The Structure of Power in American Society
7. What Is a Political Intellectual?
8. Taking It Big
Afterword: Mills Today
Web Features:

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2013

About the Author

Stanley Aronowitz is the author of several major works, including Against Schooling: For an Education That Matters; How Class Works: Power and Social Movement; The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning; False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness; The Crisis in Historical Materialism: Class, Politics, and Culture in Marxist Theory; and Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. He is also the coauthor of The Jobless Future: Sci-Tech and the Dogma of Work and Education Under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal, and Radical Debate Over Schooling.