Book Reviews

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin


The Queen is a fascinating book revealing the life and crimes of Linda Taylor, a Chicago woman who spawned the myth of the infamous welfare queen. While Taylor was undoubtedly a welfare cheat, she was also a kidnapper and perhaps even a murderer… but the welfare fraud was the only thing anyone seemed to care about.

I think it’s safe to say it’s unlikely to live in America without ever hearing the phrase “welfare queen”. As soon as the topic of welfare programs is raised online, dozens of angry people rush in to talk about people who are cheating the system, and sooner or later, someone will throw out the derogatory term. Having seen it hundreds of times over the years, I often wondered if there was any truth behind the phrase or not…. which is why it was important to me to read this book.

It’s impossible to briefly touch on all the crimes committed by Linda Taylor (one of her many aliases) in this review. Suffice to say it was shocking to see how the least of her crimes garnered the most attention, and disheartening to know how the mythos of the welfare queen lingers on, engendering distrust of the poor and, particularly, poor people of color.

The Queen is well-researched and written in an easy-to-read style. Simultaneously intriguing and disturbing, the life and crimes of Linda Taylor will linger in your memory for quite some time.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

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Author: Josh Levin
Title: The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Publication Date: May 21, 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

Slate editor Josh Levin’s masterful account of the life and crimes of America’s original “welfare queen” is “an invaluable work of nonfiction” (David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon).

On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship-after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody-not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan-seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery.

Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of the color of her skin. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin’s mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism, and an expose of the “welfare queen” myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. THE QUEEN tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.

“THE QUEEN is a wild, only-in-America story that helped me understand my country better. It’s a fascinating portrait of a con artist and a nation… and the ways the United States continually relies on oversimplified narratives about race and class to shape public policy, almost always at the expense of brown people and poor people.” (Attica Locke, author of the Edgar Award winning Bluebird, Bluebird)

About the Author

JOSH LEVIN is an American writer and the executive editor at Slate magazine. He also hosts the magazine’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen.

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