The author of this important and timely book grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia, an island of white supremacy for almost a century that remained untouched by the civil rights movement. How that happened is a powerful, complicated, and horrifying story of racial cleansing that writer and poet Patrick Phillips tells as a white man seeking the truth about his own roots. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W.W. Norton, $26.95) examines in vivid and often lyrical detail the events that led to the forcible and violent expulsion of virtually all black people in the county in 1912—many of whom had lived and worked there for generations—and the decades of exclusion that followed. Change finally came to Forsyth with the 21st century, but even today the legacy of racial cleansing simmers beneath the surface. Courageous, beautifully written, and rich in its detailed reporting, Phillips records a genuine but depressing slice of American history whose repercussions continue to be felt in our country today.
Julia Ward Howe is best known for having written “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and history and literary buffs may also recognize her as poet, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s suffrage. But until now far less has been written about the depths of her misery in marriage, her secret writings or, on a brighter note, her proximity to the cultural and political leaders of her day. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe (Simon & Schuster, $28) by the superb literary critic and author Elaine Showalter, immerses readers in Howe’s public and private worlds – her civil wars. Seeing Howe through the lens of history, and with an honest but compassionate eye, Showalter describes her subject’s gallant but often tenuous attempts to match her great gifts, ambitions, and opinions against the challenges and expectations placed on women in nineteenth-century America. Part biography, part history, part social criticism, this is narrative non-fiction at its best – a story that tells a bigger story, one that engages the reader so deeply and on so many levels that, once you start reading, you won’t want to put it down.
Rebecca Traister’s new book was one of the most anticipated works of non-fiction in 2016, and for good reason. Described by writer Anne Lamott as “the most brilliant voice on feminism in this country,” Traister had already produced a searing examination of sexism and gender stereotyping in the 2008 presidential campaign (Big Girls Don’t Cry) before turning her attention to the experience of unmarried women throughout American history. All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Simon & Schuster, $27; paper, $17) is a masterful exploration of how unmarried women are redefining notions of love, attachment, and marriage, and in the process are gaining unprecedented political, social, and economic power. Traister intersperses her own personal (and often very funny) experiences into the larger historical context, making for a fascinating book that has serious implications for American politics now and in the future.