In his Peer-to-Peer Conversations for The David Rubenstein Show on PBS, David M. Rubenstein, a philanthropist and financier, has engaged with top figures in the business world to explore the question of what makes a good leader. Extending the discussion to American historians, The American Story (Simon & Schuster, $30) is a collection of dynamic exchanges with preeminent writers and scholars. Covering the pivotal events and people from the founding to the late 20th century, the collection features Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Caro on LBJ, Ron Chernow on Hamilton, Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln, David McCullough on Adams, as well as a special conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts and a foreword by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
The death of Tony Horwitz earlier this year was a tragic loss to the literary community and his last book, Spying on the South (Penguin Press, $30), is an exceptional example of the kind of intrepid spirit that he was. Following the wanderings of Frederick Law Olmsted through the South on the eve of the Civil War, Horwitz’s own travels read as an homage to the restless curiosity that drove Olmsted to roam and the empathy for humanity that inspired him to create Central Park, aka the “people’s park.” Rather than attempting to explain the South here, Horwitz—as Olmsted did—opts for offering observations over analysis. He lets us hear the voices of the people he meets, and as we listen to them tell their own tales, the book offers an implicit hope that we as readers will be able to find common ground among the diversity of experiences. Conversational and often humorous, Horwitz’s journalistic style is ultimately more poignant that comic; his openness and genuine interest in dialogue feels as uncommon and incredibly important in our political climate as it did to Olmsted two centuries ago.
In two previous books, Lose Your Mother and Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman pioneered “critical fabulation,” an approach combining archival research, critical theory, and fictional narrative to explore the afterlife of slavery and the effects of racism and exile on African-American identity. In her new book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W.W. Norton, $28.95), she uses a similar methodology to examine a generation of young Black women who rebelled against traditional social and cultural constraints. Focusing on the urban experience of Black women in the early twentieth century, Hartman, a Guggenheim Fellow and professor at Columbia, uses history and literary imagination to trace the lives of women who rejected both degrading conditions of work and normative gender roles in personal relationships, showing how these experiments in work, sex, and marriage constituted a radical transformation of Black intimate and social life.