A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A marvelous exploration by an author steeped in the craft of his subject’s elastic, elusive work.

THE MYSTERY OF CHARLES DICKENS

The mystery of the iconic novelist’s divided self as beautifully parsed by accomplished English biographer and novelist Wilson.

In this utterly satisfying investigative narrative, the author moves from Dickens’ death in 1870 back through his career and childhood trauma being sent to work in a blacking factory at age 12. It’s clear that Wilson fully comprehends the many complexities of the wily novelist, public performer, and secret lover. Beginning with the mystery of his death, the author re-creates the last day of the famous novelist’s life as he made the habitual hour’s journey from his home at Gad’s Hill, Kent, to his mistress’s house in Peckham (places have major significance in Dickens’ work). There, he suffered a seizure and was returned to his home to die a respectable death, surrounded by his estranged wife—tortured, as Wilson calls her—and some of his many adult children. Wilson gradually, engagingly unravels the circumstances surrounding his death. “Dickens was good at dying,” he writes. “If you want a good death, go to the novels of Dickens.” The novelist had been consumed by his love affair with the former actress Nelly Ternan for the previous 13 years and had bought the house where she lived with her mother and sisters. Just that morning, Dickens had been working toward the conclusion of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a book that was destined to be left incomplete, and was saturated with a sense of raging passion for a young, unobtainable girl. (Wilson ably dispels the myth that Dickens did not write about sex.) Wilson writes with precision, intuition, and enormous compassion for Dickens’ senses of social justice and outrage, especially regarding children in the mercilessly materialist Victorian era. The author also charmingly conveys his own early enchantment with Dickens’ books.

A marvelous exploration by an author steeped in the craft of his subject’s elastic, elusive work.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-295494-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A fiery, eloquent call to action for White men who want to be on the right side of history.

LETTERS TO MY WHITE MALE FRIENDS

A Black man speaks hard truths to White men about their failure to dismantle systemic racism.

A “child of the Black bourgeoisie,” journalist Ross first learned “the shadow history of Black revolutionary struggle” in college. He accepted that he “directly benefited from the struggle that generations of Black folks had died in the name of, yet I wasn’t doing anything to help those who hadn’t benefited.” The author calls the White men of his generation, Gen X, to also recognize their complicity and miseducation. “We were fed cherry-picked narratives that confirmed the worthlessness of Black life,” he writes, “The euphemistic ‘culture of poverty,’ not systemic oppression, was to blame for the conditions in which so many Black people lived.” The story that White people have been told about Black people is “missing a major chapter,” and Ross thoroughly elucidates that chapter with a sweeping deep dive into decades of American social history and politics that is at once personal, compelling, and damning. Through a series of well-crafted personal letters, the author advises White men to check their motivations and “interrogate the allegedly self-evident, ‘commonsense’ values and beliefs” that perpetuate inequality and allow them to remain blissfully unaware of the insidiousness of racism and the ways they benefit from it. Ross condemns the “pathological unwillingness to connect the past with the present” and boldly avoids the comfortable “both sides” rhetoric that makes anti-racism work more palatable to White people. “It is on you,” he writes, “to challenge the color-blind narratives your parents peddle.” The letters are consistently compelling, covering wide ground that includes the broken criminal justice system, gentrification, and the problem with framing equity work as “charity.” Finally, Ross offers practical guidance and solutions for White men to employ at work, in their communities, and within themselves. Pair this one with Emmanuel Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.

A fiery, eloquent call to action for White men who want to be on the right side of history.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-27683-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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