An unsettling yet important historical excavation and true-crime narrative.

THE CHILD IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR

THE EXECUTION OF GEORGE JUNIUS STINNEY JR. AND THE MAKING OF A TRAGEDY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH

A compact, jolting, account of the shameful execution of a 14-year-old Black boy in the Jim Crow South.

Beyond the riveting narrative, this book has a poignant backstory: Faber pursued it as both academic study and passion project, ultimately racing a cancer diagnosis to complete it. Before his death in 2020, he tasked colleague and friend Carol Berkin with shepherding it to publication. “I knew Eli had been right,” writes Berkin in the foreword. “I had in my keeping an important story that needed to be shared.” The story of George Junius Stinney Jr., convicted of murdering two young girls in a South Carolina mill town, is puzzling and tragic. “Bitter memories of this double murder and the execution that followed…endured for decades,” not least because a desultory investigation and arguably coerced confession leave open the question of culpability. Faber develops the story meticulously, with rewarding detours into the odd “company town” of Alcolu, where a sternly benevolent founding family dominated life, encouraging relatively benign treatment of Black citizens prior to the murder; and the horrific role of lynching as social control in the South. Recalling a memory from Stinney’s brother, the author writes that “until things unraveled after the murder of two White girls, overt tension between the races did not exist.” When the girls were found murdered, a state constable received a tip from an unnamed “colored man” that George Stinney was “the meanest” boy in the town. Although he’d been in sight of family members the whole day, Stinney’s guilt was quickly presumed. As people heard about his purported confession, “rumors of rape quickly destroyed the relative civility between the races that had long defined Alcolu.” A lynching was narrowly averted. Faber ably documents Stinney’s perfunctory trial and quick march toward execution, giving a rich sense of the daily, pervasive brutality of the Jim Crow South.

An unsettling yet important historical excavation and true-crime narrative.

Pub Date: June 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64336-194-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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