• The Queen

  • The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
  • By: Josh Levin
  • Narrated by: January LaVoy
  • Length: 12 hrs and 44 mins
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (184 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography

In this critically acclaimed true crime tale of "welfare queen" Linda Taylor, a Slate editor reveals a "wild, only-in-America story" of political manipulation and murder (Attica Locke, Edgar Award-winning author).

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 exposé 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. "In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation's conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals in this "invaluable work of nonfiction," the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are (David Grann, number one New York Times best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon).

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2019 Josh Levin (P)2019 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

"For decades, Linda Taylor has been demagogued by politicians and the press, reduced to a cruel stereotype: the welfare queen shamelessly leeching from government coffers. Through meticulous reporting, Josh Levin's The Queen illuminates in full the story of a life far more complicated, cunning, criminal, tragic and fascinating than the historical stereotype would have ever allowed us to see." (Wesley Lowery, author of They Can't Kill Us All)

"It is impossible to read The Queen without pausing every few pages to marvel at either the brilliance of Josh Levin's research or the sheer wildness of the tale. By pouring years of devotion into piecing together Linda Taylor's bizarre criminal odyssey, Levin has created a work of American history like no other - an enthralling portrait of a nation whose splendid promise has too often been distorted by prejudice and political cynicism." (Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start)

What listeners say about The Queen

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Very compelling story!

A fascinating well researched story of the sad and horrifying truth behind an urban myth. Linda Taylor was a welfare cheat but Ronald Reagan turned her into a symbol to help his narrative of waste and abuse by a whole class of people. He rolled over Linda Taylor into the White House. Levin goes back in time to find the real Linda Taylor. A compelling read.

7 people found this helpful

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Ghost Mothers As Invisible Criminals

This is the detailed story of a famous grifter. The beginning of her story, well she didn't have one, as her mother was white and had an affair with a black man and then disowned the little girl as best she could, to maintain white privileges in racist southern communities. If I recall her mixed-race child had her first child at 14 years old, and had already been on her own for years without a family or culture behind her for support. Not even an education as she was barred from attending white schools. We know her rape episodes began at 13, and there seem to be many more. She eventually was left with five children as a single parent, and for sure, she became a liability to society and everyone including her paid for her mother's crimes. The child, her children and the victims they invented. Years later her own mother would not claim her in an open courtroom in another state where it could have been accepted and tolerated. It is a very sad story of obscene child neglect rolling from some rural southern area and spilling out onto the streets of Chicago and across the map to Oakland California. The mother escapes all culpability for inventing the situation. Very spooky, very creepy, very sad. All too common. Great insight and journalism. Recommended reading, fascinating story. A current-day "Les Miserables". You will be able to judge every character fairly from your heart with this honest telling of these lives.

6 people found this helpful

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Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

The truly bizzare story of the original "Welfare Queen". Welfare fraud may well be the least interesting aspect of this true tale of multiple identities, fraud and possibly murder and kidnappings. This story is in turn maddening, sad, and headshakingly unbelievable with perfect narration. A must listen.

5 people found this helpful

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This was a great book.

I must say the writer did a great job with the story line I love the way he laid her life out which gives an understanding of on how a lot of people turn into criminals trying to survive. Greed once the get a little they have to find the next trick to get more great book

5 people found this helpful

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Gripping!!!

I am not typically a crime novel person, but this story was absolutely gripping! I couldn’t stop listening to it. I loved this. Josh Levin is an incredible author, and this story had me hooked, especially as a native Chicagoan (who has lived on welfare 💁🏻‍♀️) I love it. Absolutely recommend it. 10/10.

4 people found this helpful

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Over the top!!

The book kept me captive for a week. It was that good. I wanted to see what would happen next, I.e. what scam was she running this time. Hard to believe this lady was for real! The book would have been shorter with less emphasis on Reagan, but I saw the need to weave him into the story.

3 people found this helpful

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Interesting story, poorly written

This is not a very easy listen. The subject is interesting - Linda Taylor, the original Welfare Queen from the mid 70s around Chicago - but it's not written in a very fluid or engaging style. One of those cases where an interesting non-fiction subject was hindered by bad writing (Radium Girls was another, in my opinion). I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it, either.

2 people found this helpful

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Truths untold

Denying the truth of Linda Taylor, the grifter, kidnapper, and murder, just to broad brush the underprivileged with a tired trope. This is who the beloved Ronald Reagan really is.

4 people found this helpful

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Enjoyed most of the story....

But this woman's complicated life was complicated to read about. Too many names, people, dates, and states made it a bit difficult to follow. What I enjoyed the most was seeing how her life was politicized. Makes me rethink my opinion of Reagan.

1 person found this helpful

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When a queen turns out to be just a pawn

This is the story of a truly odious woman, with very little of redeeming value, nor anything for which to be admired. Yet her ultimate legacy is as a racist caricature of the nickel-and-dime welfare cheat. This by the powers-that-be in America to distract from their own (significantly more massive) graft, led by that cuddly, gentle soul Ronald Reagan. The bigotry and hypocrisy would be maddening, if we all didn't know it was true at the time! (As this review is being written, Reagan's true character is being even more revealed with the release of his loathsome conversations with Richard Nixon). The only slight issue I have with the book is that it does take perhaps an overlong junket into the deep background of the title character. However, it is valuable to get glimpse into what events conspired to create this person. A person whose true nature and crimes, perhaps murder and kidnapping, are far worse than for what she became best known. But which were not politically convenient or expedient enough to construct the racist straw man (straw woman?) of the "welfare queen". It's at that level, the reader can see that the depravity of society as being far more troubling than of this mere pawn, vile as she may have been.

3 people found this helpful