As we sadly continue to struggle with racial issues in this country, I want to highlight two outstanding books that confront significant racial conflicts in our history, providing important context and analysis that will hopefully lead to further progress.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun by Gilbert King (Apr. 24): In what our reviewer called “a spellbinding true story of racism, privilege, and official corruption,” King, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, Devil in the Grove, narrates a shocking tale of a 1957 case of legal malfeasance, blatant prejudice (against both whites and blacks), and the KKK in a small Florida town. In the starred review, we write that “the author draws on thousands of pages of unpublished documents, including court filings and testimony, hospital records, legislative materials, and personal files, to assemble this page-turner, suffused with a palpable atmosphere of dread….By turns sobering, frightening, and thrilling, this meticulous account of the power and tenacity of officially sanctioned racism recalls a dark era that America is still struggling to leave behind.” Like Devil, this one will prove to be one of the most powerful of the year and garner award nominations.
Denmark Vesey’s Garden by Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts (Apr. 3): Historians Kytle and Roberts dive deeply into the “whitewashed” versions of the story of American slavery, shooting down the many myths surrounding “benevolent” masters and grateful slaves. They begin with the Civil War and move through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and more recent history, using Charleston, South Carolina, as a focal point from which to investigate the many conflicting narratives surrounding slavery and its aftermath. In a starred review, we write, “making fine use of letters, diaries, and other sources, the authors offer a richly detailed, vivid re-creation of the entire era, showing how former slaveholders fostered romanticized antebellum memories while former slaves told the true story of slavery’s brutality.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.