“Autobiography is central to galvanizing democratic action, Nolan Bennett argues in this important and timely book. Life writing allows authors to seize the authority to make their lives politically meaningful, while encouraging readers to connect their own experiences to visions of equality and justice. Engaging some of the most interesting writers in American political history, this beautiful book reminds us of the power of personal storytelling for crafting vibrant democratic futures.”

Elisabeth R. Anker, author of Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom

The Claims of Experience is a beautiful, innovative book. Through vivid studies of autobiographies by revered and reviled figures from US history, Nolan Bennett captures the relationship between life writing and democratic thinking. Bennett’s book not only reveals the political value of autobiography, but it also pursues Richard Wright’s dream of building ‘a bridge of words’ between the stories of five remarkable lives and the possibilities for freer and more humane forms of coexistence.”

Lawrie Balfour, author of Democracy’s Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W. E. B. Du Bois

“Nolan Bennett’s fine study adds a vitally important dimension to our understanding of autobiography and its uses. Heretofore, we have approached this genre mainly for insights into personal identity and for vivid testimony about trauma, illness, and disability. Bennett now shows that autobiographies are also compelling contributions to an expanded political theory of democracy, one that gives weight to experience not just ideas, and to citizens not just institutions.”

Nick Bromell, author of The Time Is Always Now: Black Thought and the Transformation of US Democracy

“Nolan Bennett’s Claims of Experience is an ambitious and thought-provoking book that introduces creative new ways to think about the role of autobiography in democratic politics. Analyzing how a diverse selection of American thinkers have told their life stories, it offers strikingly original interpretations of their political thought, along with fresh insights into their personal and public lives. It is a book for anyone who cares about how Americans understand themselves and their politics, not only in the past but also today.”

Michael Lienesch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Nolan Bennett’s The Claims of Experience is a remarkable book. Bennett recovers the role of personal narrative as a resource for political thought and democratic politics in a series of provocative and original readings of autobiographical texts. It offers keen insights in an engaging prose. This is an important and original contribution to political theory.”

Simon Stow, The College of William and Mary

“Autobiography creates community. This is the bold, paradoxical claim that Nolan Bennett explores in this magnificent history of life writing in U.S. political thought. Bennett sheds new light on classic autobiographers, Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass, while disclosing the intellectual riches of the relatively neglected Henry Adams, Emma Goldman, and Whittaker Chambers. This careful, thorough book will have a long shelf life as an alternative history of American political thought.”

Jack Turner, author of Awakening to Race: Individualism and Social Consciousness in America