Before I read Pauli Murray's autobiography, I knew her as the brilliant lawyer responsible for the legal principle that led to desegregation of public schools in 1954. She was so much more: a spirited adviser to Eleanor Roosevelt, a tireless champion of gender equality, an advocate of hormone replacement therapy...! Her memoir builds on the dilemmas of her everyday experiences to capture the spirit of an era.
This strong book gave me hope—and concrete ideas!—for human cooperation in a time of great social fracture. Krista Tippett hosts the spectacular podcast, On Being, in conversation with intellectuals, faith leaders, scientists, writers, and activists in attempts to find and nurture human goodness. Becoming Wise distills the most important ideas that have emerged from her years on the project.
I return to this novel over and over again. It’s the story of an 18th-century slave ship and the people of distant origins who fall prey to it. What I most love about it is how Unsworth builds out the story, so that the Liverpool Merchant itself becomes a tiny agent of doom with the bloodstream of world trade, powered by one supreme tenet: “Money is sacred, as everyone knows. So then must be the hunger for it.”
I dearly love this book. Loneliness is a miserable condition. It comes from lack of intimacy, yet it provokes feelings of shame that cause the sufferer to withdraw, further alienating herself. Laing pieces together the lives of four urban artists known to have inhabited loneliness. Wonderfully, she discovers that loneliness is a populated place and that it's functioned as a seedbed for inclusive art and political activism.
This is a deeply moving social and environmental history of the Cold War, largely based on the author’s interviews with survivors. U.S. and Soviet nuclear leaders built “idyllic” top-security residential communities for families of workers. “Plutopia,” however, became the setting for tragedy as the factories emitted more radioactive waste than four Chernobyls, destroying the “nuclear families” who operated them.
Heart Berries dwells on matters of the heart, yes, but it’s brutal and bare, a dissection of self. Raised on the Seabird Island reservation, Mailhot struggled with poverty, a dual PTSD and bipolar II diagnosis, a failed child custody battle, and the challenge of an indigenous woman in partnership with a white man. A spare trip through the ugliness of the author's past, it culminates in an unexpected act of self-recovery and repair.
No book on my shelf brings the American Civil War to life as poignantly as this one does. From 1861 to 1865, prevailing ideas about who should die, and when, shifted as hundreds of thousands perished in combat. Commonalities of loss, in fact, proved an unexpected point of reunion at war’s end. This is a highly readable and gripping retelling of a conflict that continues to touch each of us.
This little book is for everyone. Deeply entertaining and relatable, Men Explain Things To Me is a state-of-the-endeavor address on gender relations. (You won’t believe the first essay; if you can, read it now.) Solnit explores, among other topics, sexism in unexpected places; marriage equality; and gendered violence. Impeccably researched, these essays will make you laugh, gape, think, and rethink.
This debut essay collection transformed thirty-something Joan Didion into as intellectual icon of 1960s/‘70s California. Best known for her investigative piece on the Haight-Ashbury, Didion locates a vein of depravity in the heart of the Bay Area counterculture. These essays are cool, sharp, and cuttingly intelligent. They smoke in sunglasses and observe absurdities from a white Corvette Stingray. Expect profound intelligence, measured scorn, and great writing.
Alongside the legalized enslavement of African Americans, an illicit slave trade in the American West targeted as many as 5 million Indian women and children. But because Indian slavery was illegal, the practice was rarely documented, leading historians to believe that it affected fewer than it actually did. This is a profound piece of historical detective work and my Christmas pick for the history-lover in my family.