This is a fast, fascinating and terrifying read. Donald Trump’s dysfunction has been on display for over three years and I’ve always wondered what makes someone so damaged and insecure. This book helps explain the family dynamics that set this process in motion for Donald but also for the other siblings, particularly the family namesake, Freddy, Mary Trump’s father. It has to be seen as a courageous act to go against such a domineering set of siblings, one currently the U.S. President, who ultimately acted together to disinherit Mary and her brother. The Trump base will not like this book but I found it mesmerizing.
Author of Ambiguous Lives and Homelands and Waterways, Adele Logan Alexander taught for eighteen years at George Washington University. Princess of the Hither Isles (Yale, $30) draws on her extensive scholarship as well as on her own family history to tell the story of Adella Hunt Logan (1863-1915), a pioneering activist for social justice—and Alexander’s grandmother. Born to a white father and free woman of color in a Georgia family whose lineage also included Cherokees, Logan started teaching at age sixteen, before getting a scholarship to Atlanta University; by 1883, she was
on the faculty of the Tuskegee Institute, where she became the institution’s first woman librarian and formed a close friendship with Booker T. Washington. An advocate for equal education and universal suffrage, she wrote for The Crisis and The Colored American and was part of a circle of reformers that included Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and W. E. B. Du Bois. While her efforts ultimately led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Logan suffered a breakdown and, just after Washington’s death in 1915, committed suicide. Alexander recounts her life with vivid historical insight and keen psychological acuity, doing justice to one of the many courageous women of color too often omitted from accounts of the suffrage movement.
Phineas Barnum (1810-1891), American hustler, huckster, and entertainer, is best known for Barnum and Bailey’s circus, billed as “the greatest show on earth.” Robert Wilson’s elegantly written Barnum (Simon & Schuster, $28) spotlights Barnum’s humbugs and hoaxes prior to the circus days, such as the former slave, Joice Heath, he passed off as George Washington’s 161-year-old nursemaid; the Fejee Mermaid, which was part fi sh, part monkey skeleton; and his long tour with five-year-old Charley Stratton dubbed “the little general” and renamed Tom Thumb. Barnum also constructed an Oriental Villa in Connecticut which ultimately burned to the ground, and lectured on temperance reform and money-making, in spite of his own spectacular bankruptcies. Wilson, the author of two previous biographies and editor of The American Scholar, resists the urge to editorialize but his meticulous research speaks for itself. Ultimately, Barnum emerges as complicated, vain, and selfserving, and in the words of one contemporary journalist, "Barnum appears to be a vain elderly man on the best possible terms with himself."