a few words about me

I have a new book!9780520280830-1

After four years of research and writing, I’m happy to report that America’s Social Arsonist, the first biography of legendary community and labor organizer Fred Ross, is finally here. (On the cover, Ross is the hunky movie-star looking man; the man wearing the hat is Woody Guthrie.)

You can order it here:





Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Ross– he intentionally kept a low profile, believing that an organizer’s role was to push people forward and remain in the background. But there is no doubt that he is one of the most influential organizers in American history, a figure who worked closely with Saul Alinksy, mentored leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and helped organize Latinos into a political force in California. The title comes from his evocative definition of an organizer: “A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.”

You can head over to the book’s Facebook page, where I have posted photos, events, and where I’ll be adding (positive) reviews, any exciting news, etc. I’ve also posted book readings under the Event tab.

Below is a short overview of the book, my bio, and some nice early praise.

If you’d like to host a book event, class presentation, Skype talk, or anything else, please get in touch at: thompson.gabriel@gmail.com.

About the Book

Raised by conservative parents who hoped he would “stay with his own kind,” Fred Ross instead became one of the most influential community organizers in American history. His activism began alongside Dust Bowl migrants, where he managed the same labor camp that inspired John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. During World War II, Ross worked for the release of interned Japanese Americans, and after the war, he dedicated his life to building the political power of Latinos across California. Labor organizing in this country was forever changed when Ross knocked on the door of a young Cesar Chavez and encouraged him to become an organizer.

Until now there has been no biography of Fred Ross, a man who believed a good organizer was supposed to fade into the crowd as others stepped forward. In America’s Social Arsonist, Gabriel Thompson provides a full picture of this complicated and driven man, recovering a forgotten chapter of American history and providing vital lessons for organizers today.

Author Bio:

Gabriel Thompson is a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. He is the author of several books, and has written for Harper’sNew York, Slate, Mother Jones, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Nation.

Advance Praise for America’s Social Arsonist:

“Without Fred Ross, there would have been no Cesar Chavez. With careful research and deft prose, Gabriel Thompson has brought to life a seminal figure whose legacy continues to resonate in social movements across the country. America’s Social Arsonist is the best kind of history—an engrossing, thought-provoking story with great relevance for anyone who cares about community organizing and social change.”

Miriam Pawel, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography

“Fred Ross was one of America’s leading labor organizers and educators, dedicating his life to lifting the voices and earnings of the oppressed. Here’s a superb biography and introduction to Ross’s life, thoughts, teachings, and techniques—as applicable for America today as they were when he was alive and kicking.”          

—Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor

“Fred Ross was a quiet leader who inspired greatness in those he met and worked with. He had real insight and knew how to move people to action. Cesar Chavez himself got his first organizing instructions from Fred Ross.”

Jerry Brown, thirty-ninth governor of California

“A compulsive read, full of keen social insights, sage historical judgments, and a telling narrative of a man who sacrificed family for the good fight. By rescuing Ross from obscurity, Thompson offers twenty-first-century social arsonists essential lessons that cannot be ignored even in an age of social media and capitalist hegemony.”

Nelson Lichtenstein, coeditor of The Port Huron Statement: Sources and Legacies of the New Left’s Founding Manifesto

“A superb, revelatory biography not only of the legendary Fred Ross but also of the rank-and-file activists in the barrios and fields whose heroic persistence made possible the rebellions of the 1960s.”

Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

“This compelling biography chronicles how previously powerless farmworkers were brilliantly organized by the charismatic Fred Ross. With painful honesty, it also documents Ross’s sacrifice, personal pain, and loss to himself and to his loved ones involved in this campaign across a lifetime of heroic effort.”

Kevin Starr, author of the Americans and the California Dream series