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v2.1 Reference

"The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States"

A Biography of Herbert Aptheker

When J. Edgar Hoover declared Herbert Aptheker "the most dangerous Communist in the United States," the notorious FBI director misconstrued his true significance. In this first book-length biography of Aptheker (1915–2003), Gary Murrell provides a balanced yet unflinching assessment of the controversial figure who was at once a leading historian of African America, radical political activist, literary executor of W. E. B. Du Bois, and lifelong member of the American Communist Party. Although blacklisted at U.S. universities, Aptheker published dozens of books, including the groundbreaking American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) and the monumental seven-volume Documentary History of the Negro People (1951–1994). He also edited four volumes of the correspondence and unpublished writings of Du Bois, an achievement that Eric Foner, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called "a milestone in the coming of age of Afro-American history."

As Murrell shows, Aptheker the historian was inseparable from Aptheker the leading Communist Party intellectual, polemicist, and agitator. During the 1960s, his ability to rouse and inspire both black and white student radicals made him one of the few Old Leftists accepted by the New Left. Aptheker had joined the CPUSA during its heyday in the 1930s, convinced that only through the party's leadership could fascism be defeated and true liberation be achieved: he ended his affiliation five decades later in 1991 after the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In an afterword, Bettina Aptheker adds to Murrell's narrative by illuminating her mother Fay's vital contributions to her father's work and by affirming the particularly devastating challenges of life in a family dedicated to radical political and social change.

About the Authors

Gary Murrell is professor of history at Grays Harbor College. His website is


"A first-rate piece of scholarship and a great book, which amounts not only to the life story of an individual, but a balanced, provocative, and clear-eyed history of American Communism from its 1930s heyday to its virtual collapse in the 1990s."—Maurice Isserman, author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left

"Murrell points a vivid, detailed picture of Aptheker's political life and for this he should be commended. 'The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States' is a monumental accomplishment."—People's World

"In a remarkable Afterward, Bettina Aptheker pays tribute to her mother and her father, without removing the stain of an activity [sexual abuse] that, she says, he inisted he could not remember. Did this activity have any role in his scholarship or political activity? Bettina does not think so, and neither does Murrell, so we are left to wonder, or simply let it pass by as another of life's imponderables."—Portside

"If you've never heard of Aptheker, Murrell's new book title, 'The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States:' A biography of Herbert Aptheker spells it out quite plainly. But the book is anything but a plain read. Murrell captures an American activist at the professional height — and troubling family depths — of his life. From inspiration to expiration, the book is a thorough study of a man J. Edger Hoover once declared 'the most dangerous communist in the United States'."—Daily World

"Gary Murrell has given us a much-needed comprehensive study of the life and work of Dr. Herbert Aptheker, Marxist historian and political theoretician. . . . We are indebted to him."—Science & Society

"I am grateful to Murrell for uncovering so much about [Apthecker] and setting it all in order."—American Communist History

"Murrell's well-written biography of Herbert Aptheker is an important contribution to American intellectual history and the Communist Party in the 20th century. It should be widely read by scholars of U.S. political and African American history and researchers of American academic culture."—Journal of African American History
University of Massachusetts Press

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