Now in his late 70s, Leon Golub is a leading exponent of history painting – painting as a narrative, symbolic expression of global, social and political relations and of the realities of power. In this book, published to accompany a major retrospective exhibition traveling to Ireland, England and the United States, Jon Bird examines the artist's work from the classically influenced early paintings through depictions of conflict and masculine aggression to compelling images of the last two decades. Despite the widespread critical attention his work has received, the range and extent of his practice and its complex interweaving of the iconographic traditions of both high and popular art have not been properly examined. As a history painter, Golub is acutely aware of the antecedents to his own imagery and symbolism; part of Jon Bird's critical project is to track and define the artist's relationship to modernism. Making a case for Golub's practice of "critical realism" that also takes account of the unconscious, Bird focuses on two themes that dominate Golub's work: how his art figures the body as a sign for social and psychic identity, and what might be termed the symbolic expression of social space.