By August 1974, the Black Panthers were a national organization to be reckoned with, supported by millions of blacks as well as white liberals. How Brown came to leadership in this paramilitary, male-dominated organization, and what she did with that power, is an unsparing story of self-discovery. Brown's account of her life at the highest levels of the Black Panther party's hierarchy. More than a journey through a turbulent time in American history, this is the story of a black woman's battle to define herself.
The title is surprisingly apt. Elaine Brown is a social climber, and we watch her ascent to the top of the Black Panther Party via a combination of her hard work and her ability to find and latch onto the most powerful person in the room. In the beginning of the book she brags about being in control of the baddest people in the room, that she has power over them. At the end of the book, while Huey Newton becomes more wealthy socially isolated philosopher than street-level organizer, she has moved on into "official" politics, first as a candidate, and then as advocate/advisor for candidates at the governor and finally presidential level. I literally couldn't have cared less about her constant jockeying for power.
I knew that the BPP had difficulties with misogyny, no more and no less than the rest of the New Left, who were likely less terrible than society as a whole at that time. Sexual violence and intimate partner violence pepper the book and Brown's own life experiences. That the BPP used bullwhips to enforce discipline (whipping people who did not meet party deadlines) was a shocking revelation.