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FINALIST FOR THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE IN HISTORY. INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER. 
 

New York Times Book Review Editors'' Choice. Winner of the 2021 Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction. One of The Washington Post''s Top 50 Nonfiction Books of 2020.  
 
From a young Harvard- and Cambridge-trained historian, the secret history of the fight for gay rights that began a generation before Stonewall.
 
In 1957, Frank Kameny, a rising astronomer working for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii, received a summons to report immediately to Washington, D.C. The Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after a series of humiliating interviews, Kameny, like countless gay men and women before him, was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike many others, though, Kameny fought back.

Based on firsthand accounts, recently declassified FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents, Eric Cervini''s The Deviant''s War unfolds over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. It traces the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance. Above all, it is a story of America (and Washington) at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking, byzantine public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and ultimately victory.

Review

"Exhaustively researched and vividly written . . . [A] riveting account of Kameny’s struggle will be eye-opening for anyone keen to have a crash course on L.G.B.T.Q. politics." --George Chauncey, The New York Times Book Review

"With spare prose and linear sequencing that recalls James Baldwin . . . [an] epiphanic work . . . Cervini’s is a singular accomplishment." --Michael Henry Adams, The Guardian

"A brilliant new book that ought to change [Kameny''s legacy] forever . . . [Cervini] is a smooth writer and a brilliant researcher . . . a wealth of fascinating new details." --Charles Kaiser, The Washington Post

"[Kameny''s] is a fascinating story, and Cervini does it more than ample justice in this insightful, meticulously detailed book. He has clearly done a remarkable job of research, creating an absolutely indispensable, highly readable work of history that belongs in every library." --Booklist (starred review)

“Eric Cervini’s work is an important contribution to making our nation’s history whole and truthful. Grounded in extensive research, it tells the history of Frank Kameny’s tenacious and courageous battle with the federal government to secure respect, dignity and equality for gays and lesbians. Kameny was a pioneer who helped carve a path to a new and better world for LGBTQ Americans and for our entire nation. The Deviant’s War is a compelling work which should be on the reading list for everyone who cares about the quest for full civil rights for all Americans.” ―US Senator Tammy Baldwin

"Eric Cervini has gifted us that rarest of treasures, a guidebook for real activism. Page by page, in painstaking detail, we see our flawed and beautifully idealistic hero Frank Kameny fight for basic human rights. Equal parts inspiring and sobering, The Deviant’s War avoids empty valorizing and focuses instead on what it takes to survive in a world that wants to erase you. Should be required reading for queer people and straight allies." ―Garrard Conley, author of Boy Erased

"When Frank Kameny was dismissed from his job in 1957, the army lost an astronomer and the cause of freedom gained a general. For the next fifty years, having found his real life’s work, Kameny stood on every front line of the gay rights movement. Because of him, more than anyone else, hundreds of thousands of federal employees―including soldiers―now go off each morning, without fear, to earn their livings and serve their country. The Deviant’s War thrillingly gives Kameny his due, putting this brave, sometimes impossible, iron-willed man at the center of an epic struggle for liberty." ―Thomas Mallon, author of Fellow Travelers

“A detailed and engrossing look at Frank Kameny and his decades-long fight to convince the government and society that, in his words, Gay is Good.” ―Jim Obergefell, gay rights activist and plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges

"The Deviant’s War is a work of striking courage, exposing not only the great nemeses to homosexual freedoms but also the queer turncoats and quislings who exploited a closeted world. Frank Kameny, a central figure in American LGBT+ canon heretofore relegated to the sidelines, finally has a biography of the caliber he deserved. For this ambitious debut, Cervini is to be lauded." ―Robert Fiesler, author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

"Before Gay Rights, there was Gay Liberation, and before that, the Homophile Movement. Eric Cervini''s much needed history of this foundational political formation reveals that highly alienated individuals―whose gifts and talents were rejected because of their homosexuality―found the courage to demand change. Through direct confrontation with the state, these demeaned men and women insisted on paradigm shifts in thinking that cost them dearly. Yet they tolerated stigma, poverty and anti-social labels to literally force the country to transform. An exciting and highly readable history." ―Sarah Schulman

"The Deviant’s War offers a fast-paced narrative of the early years of the gay rights movement, focusing on the pivotal role of reluctant activist Frank Kameny. Through a careful reading of the sources, Cervini provides fascinating stories and, ultimately, a fresh new interpretation of this important gay rights leader." ―David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare

"Ambitious and exhaustive . . . Readers interested in the origins of the LGBTQ rights movement will be deeply informed by this meticulous account." --Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Eric Cervini is an award-winning historian of LGBTQ+ culture and politics. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Scholar. The Deviant’s War is his first book.

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4.8 out of 54.8 out of 5
1,258 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Tyler Hillis
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good biography on Frank Kameny; ignites many aspects of the war on homosexuals
Reviewed in the United States on June 10, 2020
Before you get this book, know it’s a biography about Frank Kameny, not an overarching historical narrative over gay struggles in the United States. While it does a good job portraying the hardships faced by gay men after World War 2, it cuts off after the book reaches the... See more
Before you get this book, know it’s a biography about Frank Kameny, not an overarching historical narrative over gay struggles in the United States. While it does a good job portraying the hardships faced by gay men after World War 2, it cuts off after the book reaches the 80s, and instead supplements a Cliff Notes version of events of HIV/AIDS and marriage equality. This is expected in a way, since apparently Kameny did not do much after losing his handle on the gay organizations he helped start.

The Deviant’s War does sprinkle in mentions of other wonderful LGBT heroes, like Bayard Rustin and Marsha P Johnson. Although they are fairly short in context; Bayard is mentioned as being significant for the civil rights movement, but then once he’s discovered performing fellatio on two men he becomes no longer relevant to the story until the epilogue in a brief passage. Marsha P Johnson is mentioned during the chapter about Stonewall, but then not really discussed until she’s found dead in a later chapter. The assertion of other people does help paint a better narrative in context of what else was going on during the time of what Frank Kameny was doing, however it also made me feel like I wasn’t getting enough of those people, either. A part of me wondered if I shouldn’t be reading a book about them instead.

The Deviant’s War does paint Frank Kameny as a blursed character, both being a blessing and a curse. He was forward in his thinking that he came up with the term “GAY IS GOOD,” being the first to ever declare this. However he also was harmful in his beliefs that gay men and women had to follow through with social standards. At his protests, Kameny wanted women to wear dresses and he wanted men in suits. Frank Kameny has helped in many ways, but after reading this, I can’t help but to wonder: what has he really done other than enforce a dress code?

The Deviant’s War also briefly mentions Clark Polak, who is described as “gay Hugh Hefner,” on page 207. Frank Kameny quickly dismisses the importance of his magazines because they are considered smut, and he was fearful gay men would be seen as immorally lesser because of it. Ironically, these magazines were incredibly beneficial for gay men at the time, giving a voice to homosexuals across the world; in fact, many magazines have been taken to court and won, unlike Kameny’s struggle. For those interested in that topic, I suggest reading “Buying Gay,” by David K Johnson.

This book is a great narrative of Frank Kameny’s life. However, for a fuller, richer history of gay men’s struggles in the USA, I suggest reading Eric Marcus’ “Making Gay History,” instead. It should also be known America wasn’t the first place to home a gay rights movement; in fact, it started in Berlin, Germany in the late 1800s, which dominoed into Stonewall. If you’re curious about the first gay rights movement in the world, I recommend reading “Gay Berlin,” by Robert Beachy.

The book is absolutely wonderful as what it is: a biography about Frank Kameny, 1945ish-1970s. I do wish, in some regard, we were given more. How did he feel about Harvey Milk? How did he react to his assassination, where was he during the White Night Riots? How did he spend the last decade of his life? How does his family view him? Does he have any nieces or nephews, or even cousins that would be interested in sharing anything? Is his whole family gone? I loved the little facts, like how he narrated a porn in 1973, or how the cast of Hair helped him in his election. I just wish there was more, too.

Outside of the writing itself, I do feel bad about the cover on the book. When I took it out of the box, I was stunned with the book and all it’s beauty. However, as soon as I touched the sleeve, my fingers made an imprint. Something to know about this book is that it’s highly sensitive to even clean hands. You will leave tracks of yourself on top, even if you’re careful. I wish I knew before I handled mine.

Overall, it’s a nice book. I didn’t expect a biography on mainly Frank Kameny, but it was still good. Don’t be fooled, war on deviants doesn’t stop here, many things happen to gay men that the book doesn’t cover. It doesn’t mention how before Frank’s birth, the Navy had men hunt for homosexuals by getting them to perform fellatio on them (this event was later known as the Newport Sex Scandal). It also doesn’t mention how the government largely ignored the Upstair’s Lounge fire in 1973, which killed 32 people, primarily because they were gay. These were all horrible things as part of the war on deviants.

If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why doesn’t the book mention how gay men were thrown into concentration camps and used for target practice because their large, pink triangles? If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why not mention all of the times gay men were arrested, and later on given shock therapy, or even castrated? If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why not mention all of these other things?

Overall, as a biography on Frank Kameny, it is good.
71 people found this helpful
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NateT.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent from start to finish
Reviewed in the United States on June 3, 2020
This book was hard to put down. It is extremely informative and gives such wonderful insight into the complex history of being gay in America. It''s not just another history book for the shelf. This is a book you''ll enjoy reading and feel the need to share and pass around... See more
This book was hard to put down. It is extremely informative and gives such wonderful insight into the complex history of being gay in America. It''s not just another history book for the shelf. This is a book you''ll enjoy reading and feel the need to share and pass around among your friends or buy as a gift for someone who may need history lesson. Everyone who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community should be required to read this. You will be happy you did! Thank you Dr. Cervini for this excellent read!!!!!
19 people found this helpful
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C. Zellmer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Historical and Eye-Opening True Story
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2020
Pre-ordered and received on the release day. Now on Chapter 7. Extremely well written, fascinating, and scary at the same time. I was born around the time that much of these events happened. I benefited from their brave fighting for equality, but also lived through some... See more
Pre-ordered and received on the release day. Now on Chapter 7. Extremely well written, fascinating, and scary at the same time. I was born around the time that much of these events happened. I benefited from their brave fighting for equality, but also lived through some dark times. The scary part is how and what the government did to keep homosexuals out of the government and unemployed. Echoes of the gains some are trying roll back today. Eric does such a great job of telling the story. Just ordered two more copies for friends. A must read.
15 people found this helpful
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Gregg Clare
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not Dry
Reviewed in the United States on June 6, 2020
I love books on LGBT history but find that many are too academic in approach and while informative, not what one would call enjoyable to read. I just started The Deviants War and find it both informative and enjoyable to read.
17 people found this helpful
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Adam Powell
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A MUST READ FOR EVERYONE!
Reviewed in the United States on June 2, 2020
Wow! Eric Cervini exposes a monumental piece of LGBT history and this book is going to be HUGE! This is a must read for everyone! This is the best way to support Pride this year! Congrats!
19 people found this helpful
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Thank You
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A personal journey a walk into history but yet a fight that still rages !
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2020
All I can say is wow! With each page I wonder what will I learn, what do I know, what will I understand. Feels personal, yet like I''m walking with those who have gone before!
14 people found this helpful
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TKHerdzina
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Combination of LGBTQ History and Humanity
Reviewed in the United States on June 5, 2020
Eric Cervini''s book is primarily about the life of Frank Kameny an early pioneer in Gay Rights, but each chapter also brings in a person, organization or event within the same timeline that provides a broader and fuller history of the movement from from the mid to late 20th... See more
Eric Cervini''s book is primarily about the life of Frank Kameny an early pioneer in Gay Rights, but each chapter also brings in a person, organization or event within the same timeline that provides a broader and fuller history of the movement from from the mid to late 20th century. You may not realize that you are getting a history lesson around the struggles of people who just want to be able to live their best lives.
10 people found this helpful
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gerard g.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Gay History at its best!!!
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2020
This book is comprehensive, thoughtful & insightful. Perfect timing for PRIDE MONTH!
13 people found this helpful
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Steve
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A brilliantly researched and moving account of determination and courage
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 16, 2020
I found Eric Cervini''s book hard to put down. As someone born in the 1950s who struggled with being gay for decades, I was lost in admiration for the ''hero'' of this book: Frank Kameny, a man whose professional life was destroyed by his honesty about his sexuality. Long...See more
I found Eric Cervini''s book hard to put down. As someone born in the 1950s who struggled with being gay for decades, I was lost in admiration for the ''hero'' of this book: Frank Kameny, a man whose professional life was destroyed by his honesty about his sexuality. Long before the Stonewall riots, Kameny took on the US Establishment and fought against the laws which discriminated against gay men in particular. He was clearly a difficult colleague for others in the movement: autocratic and dogmatic, but what courage in the face of vilification and persecution. The book is made all the richer for its use of source materials, which capture the actions and feelings of those portrayed as they experienced them at the time. It also brings out, almost incidentally, the staggeringly high levels of police violence against their fellow US citizens. Kameny lived to see himself and all he had fought for vindicated. He is all the more of a homosexual hero for not being a plaster saint. He coined the slogan "Gay is Good". And, thanks in large part to him, so it is.
2 people found this helpful
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Courtney Froehlig
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Couldn''t put it down
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 7, 2020
Cervini does an incredible job of inviting you into Kameny''s life that you completely forget you''re reading a historical nonfiction. As the reader, you''re shocked, you''re enraged by the injustices, you''re moved to tears and laughter, but most of all you feel privileged to...See more
Cervini does an incredible job of inviting you into Kameny''s life that you completely forget you''re reading a historical nonfiction. As the reader, you''re shocked, you''re enraged by the injustices, you''re moved to tears and laughter, but most of all you feel privileged to be able to peer into this riveting secret world behind some of the most important historical events that led up to Stonewall.
4 people found this helpful
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Alton
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very Revealing History of the GLBT Long Before Stonewall
Reviewed in Canada on June 20, 2021
I am not very inclined to read political based books as I have trouble following all the ins and outs of lawyers and politicians manoeuvring. This was not at all difficult to follow as Eric has explained the history of the fight for understanding and equality less about the...See more
I am not very inclined to read political based books as I have trouble following all the ins and outs of lawyers and politicians manoeuvring. This was not at all difficult to follow as Eric has explained the history of the fight for understanding and equality less about the terminology and brought forth the people behind the movement. Which is really what this is all about, the people not the generalizations of the time. There is also how the men and women were also trying to define themselves in that time, much like it still is today.
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D
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Easily the best LGBTQ history book in years
Reviewed in Canada on June 15, 2020
Eric Cervini has delivered a masterpiece with his first book, The Deviant''s War. It is easily the best LGBTQ history book in a long, long time. It might even be the best history book in a long time. Cervini''s prose is excellent and draws you in. I highly recommend.
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