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All American History Coverage

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Sixty-seven years after the savage murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, his cousin still seeks some kind of justice. Haunted by the 1955 hate crime that ignited the civil rights movement, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. brings everything and everyone back to life in A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till. The title comes from the Bible—“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, NIV)—and is aptly applied to the short life and violent death of 14-year-old Till, while also ironically relating to the decades of delayed and denied justice that followed.

Till’s murder became international news when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket at the boy’s funeral, inviting the world to see her mutilated son. People fainted, the press raged—and yet the two white men accused of his murder were soon acquitted by an all-white jury. Not that the men worried about their fate; during their trial, they were allowed to leave their jail cells for supper with their families, carrying guns. Four months later, Look magazine published “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” by William Bradford Huie, which featured an exclusive interview with Till’s acquitted killers, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam. Milam admitted that they shot Till, tied a gin fan around his neck and rolled him into the river. Their confession earned them $4,000 and had no significant consequences.

Several investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice ensued, hindered by possibly racist politics and questionable sources. In 2017, Timothy Tyson published a bestselling book that contained a quotation from Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who claimed that Till had accosted her at the grocery store, motivating her husband and brother-in-law to pursue and eventually murder Till. In the quote, Donham recanted part of her original story. Or did she? As the Mississippi district attorney worked to confirm the quote in Tyson’s book, evidence of the author’s conversation with Donham vanished—if it ever existed.

Parker, with the help of his co-author, Christopher Benson, takes a hard look at everything that has transpired since 1955, including Parker’s own feelings of guilt. He was there the night Bryant and Milam came for Till, but he survived and went on to become a barber, minister and major force behind the family’s effort to achieve justice and right the record. His is a vivid chronicle of racism in America, an intense read that may make some readers uncomfortable. Perhaps that is the point. 

Anti-lynching bills struggled through Congress for years after Till’s murder. Finally, in March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. As Benson writes in an afterword, “the work to achieve justice has just begun.”

The story of Emmett Till’s violent death in 1955 is retold by his cousin Wheeler Parker Jr., the force behind decades of attempts to achieve justice and right the record.
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On February 28, 2003, as President George W. Bush prepared to authorize military action, he turned to his advisers and asked if they had thought enough about “what they hoped to achieve in Iraq.” Plans were made and carried out, but in a short time, the Iraq policy went awry. Historian Melvyn P. Leffler explores the many reasons why in his enlightening, detailed Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq.

After 9/11, the president felt some responsibility for the attacks (there had been warnings not heeded), along with guilt, anger, fear, a sense of political expediency and a need for revenge, the mixture of which led him to declare war on terrorism. After the decision to invade Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based, other potential dangers were considered. The president said repeatedly “that his most compelling fear was the prospect of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction from rogue regimes,” Leffler writes. Eventually the Bush administration turned its focus to Saddam Hussein, a ruthless tyrant in Iraq thought by some to have weapons of mass destruction. 

The Bush national security team was often regarded as unified and militant, Leffler explains. But in reality, the members were pragmatists with different approaches and interests who feuded with one another. Leffler shows that there was not a careful assessment of their proposed strategy for dealing with Hussein and Iraq. Hubris was a major factor, and no one person can be blamed. The president acted with the best of intentions, but his advisers who urged caution did so too hesitantly and ineffectively. Contrary to other accounts, Leffler claims that the president was not manipulated by others but was in charge at all times. He merely delegated too much authority and was indifferent to acrimony among his advisers, which adversely affected his policies.

As Leffler writes, President Bush “failed because his information was flawed, his assumptions inaccurate, his priorities imprecise, and his means incommensurate with his evolving ends.” Based on prodigious research, this superb account helps readers understand the many complexities of America’s attempts to keep our citizens safe in the face of very real dangers after 9/11.

President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy quickly went awry, and historian Melvyn P. Leffler’s enlightening, detailed book explores why.
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Journalist and Julia Child’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme (My Life in France; The French Chef in America) has crafted a finely balanced, scrupulously researched account of gastronomy and culture, history and politics in Dinner With the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House.

Even for those of us who paid the barest of attention in history class, Prud’homme’s exceptional writing and good nose for a lively anecdote make the book’s portraits of 26 American presidents vibrant, entertaining and relevant. Food in the White House is both “sustenance and metaphor,” he writes. In a literal sense, these meals reflect the preferences of presidential palates. For example, George H.W. Bush despised broccoli; Barack Obama had a “global palate”; Richard Nixon didn’t care what he ate; Abraham Lincoln loved his cornbread; and Lyndon B. Johnson doted on Texas barbecue. In a broader sense, whatever food is served in the White House influences the nation’s economic, social, cultural and political climate. Food even has the power to bring together disparate parties for productive political debate, such as Thomas Jefferson’s “Dinner Table Bargain” and Jimmy Carter’s Camp David peace brokering efforts between Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat. As the late chef and writer Anthony Bourdain put it, “Nothing is more political than food. Nothing.”

Prud’homme also gives credit to the less visible figures who have wielded food’s power, such as the many Black chefs and diverse cooks who have staffed the White House kitchen throughout history. He also shows the powerful influence first ladies have had over the presidential diet and their canny oversight of White House entertaining, from State dinners to receptions and more.

The book’s coda is a short curation of presidential families’ favorite recipes, including Martha Washington’s preserved cherries, Jefferson’s salad with tarragon vinaigrette, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “reverse martini,” Dwight D. Eisenhower’s steak and Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales River chili. A captivating epicurean history with a political twist, Dinner With the President is a fascinating look at life in the “People’s House.”

Alex Prud’homme’s exceptional writing and good nose for a lively anecdote make his 26 portraits of American presidents’ appetites vibrant and entertaining.
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You may have learned in high school that the post-Civil War Reconstruction was an inevitable failure. In her latest book, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction, historian Kidada E. Williams demonstrates that, far from dying a natural death, Reconstruction was destroyed in a not-so-secret war waged against Black citizens.

Williams argues that the end of Reconstruction was the explicit goal of Confederates who refused to accept their military defeat. Abetted by war-weary white Northerners who wanted to put the Civil War behind them, a president who had no interest in securing civil rights for Black people and authorities who didn’t care to enforce the law, armed militias and Klansmen engaged in a concerted battle to destroy Black citizens who voted, ran for office or merely owned and farmed their own land. These white aggressors invaded homes and subjected Black Americans to a host of crimes, from arson and torture to rape and murder. The destruction of property alone amounted to millions of dollars in today’s currency, while the damage to victims, their families and their communities remains incalculable.

Williams, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University, lays out her case with forensic precision. She writes with authority about the political and social circumstances that enabled these attacks, as well as the impact that these acts of terror had on Black people’s health and financial security, for both the injured parties and the generations following them. But her most compelling evidence comes from the victims themselves: witness testimonies from the Congressional hearings on the Ku Klux Klan in 1871 and transcripts of Works Progress Administration interviews with the last survivors of slavery in the 1930s. 

These testimonies make for harrowing reading, but that is no reason not to read them. Previously enslaved people recounted the horrors of these “visits”—the deaths of loved ones, the rapes, the lingering physical and psychic wounds, the loss of hard-earned wealth—with dignity and courage, knowing full well the risks they ran by testifying. Williams honors their suffering by placing them at the center of this important, overdue correction to the historical record.

Kidada E. Williams demonstrates that the progress of the post-Civil War Reconstruction was hampered by a not-so-secret war against Black citizens.

Journalist Mark Whitaker’s (Smoketown) riveting Saying It Loud: 1966—The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement chronicles a key moment in the movement for racial justice in the United States: the shift in 1966 from the nonviolent organizational tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to an emergent focus on Black Power as a “state of mind and a badge of identity” whose adherents used whatever means necessary to achieve justice.

On January 3, 1966, Black civil rights worker Sammy Younge was murdered by a white gas station owner in Tuskegee, Alabama, for asking to use the restroom. As Whitaker points out, Younge’s death “reverberated through a generation of young people who were reaching a breaking point of frustration with the gospel of nonviolence and racial integration preached by Dr. King.” Whitaker tracks many such seismic events and the ways they shifted the leadership within core civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leading to the development of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Through meticulous research, he draws revealing portraits of figures such as Stokely Carmichael, who replaced John Lewis as SNCC’s chairman; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, who formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California; and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who became the executive secretary of SNCC and thus the highest-ranking woman in the civil rights movement. In stunning detail, Whitaker records all the ways that 1966 became such a pivotal year in the quest for civil rights that, before it was over, “a cast of young men and women, almost all under the age of thirty . . . [had changed] the course of Black—and American—history.” He concludes by demonstrating that the defiant rhetoric of the Black Power movement in 1966 planted the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement and other responses to police violence against Black Americans over the last 50 years.

Saying It Loud provides an essential history of events that deserve more attention and consideration. Whitaker’s striking insights offer a memorable glimpse of a key period in American history and the struggle for racial justice in the U.S.

Saying It Loud chronicles the shift in the civil rights movement from the nonviolent tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to Black Power.

Is the book always better than the movie or TV show? Better read these soon-to-be adaptations ASAP so you can decide.

Dear Edward

By Ann Napolitano

Streaming now

Led by acclaimed actors Connie Britton (“Nashville”) and Taylor Schilling (“Orange Is the New Black”), plus newcomer Colin O’Brien, this Apple TV+ adaptation of Napolitano’s searing 2020 novel is sure to have viewers delicately dabbing their cheeks with a Kleenex. The first episode dropped on February 3. Read our Q&A with Ann Napolitano.

Daisy Jones & the Six

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

Streaming, March 2023

This runaway 2019 bestseller about a 1970s rock star is making its way to Amazon Prime Video—starring Riley Keough, the granddaughter of the ultimate 1970s rock star (Elvis), as its titular heroine. Told in a documentary style, just like the novel, the 10-episode series also stars Sam Claflin, Camila Monroe, Suki Waterhouse and Nabiyah Be.

Straight Man

By Richard Russo

Streaming as “Lucky Hank,” March 2023

Beloved “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk plays the titular character in this AMC series adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo’s take on university life in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt. The first episode airs on March 19.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

By Judy Blume

Theatrical release, April 2023

Blume’s 1970 coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old who moves from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs is a true classic, and it sounds like this film adaptation, which stars Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret and Rachel McAdams (a literary adaptation veteran after starring in The Notebook and The Time-Traveler’s Wife) as her mother, Barbara, has the potential to become one too.

The Last Thing He Told Me

By Laura Dave

Streaming, April 2023

Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, this Apple TV+ production of Laura Dave’s gripping domestic thriller stars actor Jennifer Garner. Dave herself worked on the adaptation with her husband, Josh Singer, who boasts 2015 Best Picture winner Spotlight among his many film credits. The first two episodes will be released on April 14. Read our review of The Last Thing He Told Me.

City on Fire

By Garth Risk Hallberg

Streaming, May 2023

Hallberg’s atmospheric debut, set in the early 2000s, is coming to Apple TV+ as an eight-episode series on May 14. The cast includes Chase Sui Wonders, Wyatt Oleff, Jemima Kirke (“Girls”) and  Nico Tortorella (“Younger”) as NYU students who are drawn into a mysterious death. Read our interview with Garth Risk Hallberg.


By Hugh Howey 

Streaming, May 2023

Science fiction writer Graham Yost and director Morten Tyldum have come together, alongside executive producer and actress Rebecca Ferguson, in the creation of the Apple TV+ series based on Hugh Howey’s initially self-published sensation, Silo. Set in a dystopian society living within a silo hundreds of miles underground, this television series will be sure to inspire questioning of the rules by which our lives are ordered. 

The Perfect Find

By Tia Williams 

Streaming, June 2023 

In this romantic comedy from the author of Seven Days in June, Jenna Jones finally is on the upside in her career in the beauty industry when she falls hard for her boss’ son. Now, she must decide if her clandestine romance is worth risking everything. Actors Keith Powers and Gabrielle Union will play the leads in the Netflix adaptation.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

By Crockett Johnson

Theatrical release, June 2023

Released back in 1955, this children’s picture book has inspired everything from computer games to romantic comedies. Harold and his crayon will continue to draw new audiences and create new beauty and life in a feature film starring acclaimed actors like Lil Rel Howery, Zooey Deschanel and Zachary Levi. 


By Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin 

Theatrical release, July 2023

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, this movie details the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” Featuring big-name actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy, this should be a stirring watch. Read our review of American Prometheus.

Killers of the Flower Moon

By David Grann

Theatrical release, October 2023

Legendary director Martin Scorcese will be taking David Grann’s 2017 National Book Award finalist, which tells the true story of the shocking murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s, to the screen. Frequent Scorcese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert de Niro star alongside Native actors Tantoo Cardinal, Lily Gladstone and Tatanka Means. Read our review of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Who doesn’t love seeing their favorite characters brought to life? Here are 11 book-to-screen adaptations you won’t want to miss.
Book jackets for four nonfiction books about Black history

February 4, 2023

Black history, well told

Four sweeping, novelistic nonfiction books illuminate important moments in American history.

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Everyone should know the story of Ellen and William Craft, the subjects of Ilyon Woo’s Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom. In 1848, Ellen, a light-skinned Black woman, disguised herself as a wealthy, young white man in a wheelchair. William, her husband, accompanied Ellen as an enslaved man, tending to his “master’s” needs. Together they traveled in disguise from the mansion in Georgia where they were enslaved to freedom in the North. Every step of their journey depended on them keeping their wits about them, especially for Ellen. Ship captains, train conductors and even a friend of her enslaver were fooled by Ellen’s ability to perform a role that transformed her demeanor in every conceivable way—from woman to man, Black to white, slave to master. Their self-emancipation was a triumph of courage, love and intelligence.

Yet the Crafts’ story is more than a romantic adventure, and Woo does an excellent job of providing historical context for the dangers they faced without losing the thread of a terrific story. The Crafts’ lives were not magically transformed merely by crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, Woo explains. The North, while free, was still hostile territory for self-emancipated Black people, with rampant bigotry and racism even among abolitionists. However, the greatest danger to Ellen and William was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which required everyone to return formerly enslaved people to their enslavers and forced the Crafts into exile in England until after the Civil War.

The real strength of Master Slave Husband Wife comes from Woo’s exploration of how Ellen was perceived and treated after her spectacular escape catapulted her into celebrity. Woo, whose earlier book, The Great Divorce, explored another convention-defying 19th-century woman, makes the excellent point that Ellen’s method of escape was not only brilliant but transgressive, defying conventions of gender and race. Even the fair skin tone that allowed her to pass as white was the product of generations of rape, giving the lie to myths of the “happy slave.” With empathy and admiration, Woo details Ellen’s quiet refusal to conform to the racist, classist and sexist expectations of her enemies, benefactors, supporters and even her husband. Thanks to Woo, Ellen is finally at the center of her own story as someone who heroically challenged America’s myths of equality and freedom.

Ilyon Woo tells the remarkable true story of Ellen and William Craft, who came up with an ingenious and daring plan to emancipate themselves from slavery.

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Four sweeping, novelistic nonfiction books illuminate important moments in American history.
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Four individuals served at the very top of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration from the spring of 1933 until his death in April 1945. They were originally outsiders but became invaluable leaders behind New Deal programs that were crucial to fighting the Depression and bringing victory in World War II. Author Derek Leebaert tells their stories in Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made

These four people came to Washington with fully formed, practical policy ideas. Frances Perkins, the new secretary of labor, was the first woman to be named to a presidential cabinet. She had worked with FDR when he was the governor of New York, so they had already discussed her plans, including doing away with child labor, before she agreed to join his staff in Washington. Harold Ickes was the secretary of the interior, and he had plans for protecting America’s mountains and forests. Henry Wallace, secretary of agriculture, believed he could achieve parity between farmers’ and industrial workers’ wages. Harry Hopkins wasn’t named to a cabinet position until later, but his extensive professional connections—and his impressive recall of the right people’s names—gave him an ability to get things done as the secretary of commerce. Much later, as World War II was nearing its end, these four continued to be the only top officials who were putting sensible plans for the postwar world into motion.

Perkins turned out to be a particularly effective administrator, making many decisions that were “dynamizing a generation,” Leebaert writes. With a combination of “private persuasion and public advocacy,” she helped open entire work sectors to women and urged women to step into jobs that were vacant while men were away at war. Meanwhile, her child services staff worked with the Army and Navy to provide services for spouses and children of enlisted men. She broke down barriers against employing women over 45, and she did not agree with those who felt the U.S. could trust Josef Stalin.

This well-researched, absorbing narrative reveals what it was like during the FDR administration from four unique perspectives. Unlikely Heroes should be of interest to a wide range of history and biography readers.

Derek Leebaert’s absorbing narrative goes behind the scenes of the FDR administration via the revealing perspectives of four cabinet members.
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Tomiko Brown-Nagin pays tribute to a history maker in Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Born in Connecticut in 1921, Constance Baker Motley studied law at Columbia University and went on to serve as a federal judge, becoming the first Black woman to do so. She was instrumental in ending Jim Crow and in arguing Brown vs. Board of Education. Brown-Nagin’s richly detailed narrative chronicles Motley’s working-class background and her rise in law and politics. Book clubs will enjoy digging into complex topics such as gender, social justice and the nature of power.

The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Woman Who Dared to Fight Back by Kate Moore is a fascinating look at the life of Elizabeth Packard, who was wrongfully sent to an Illinois insane asylum by her husband in 1860. During her confinement in the asylum, where living conditions were appalling, Packard found other women who had been unfairly institutionalized. Determined to stand up for herself and her sister inmates, Packard advocated for their rights against all odds. Packard is an extraordinary figure, and Moore brings her to vivid life in this haunting book.

Dorothy Wickenden’s The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights focuses on a trio of formidable women from the 19th century—Harriet Tubman, Frances A. Seward and Martha Coffin Wright—each of whom worked to further the causes of freedom and equality at a critical time in America. Wickenden documents the lives of these groundbreaking women, showing how their controversial work impacted their personal relationships and social standing. Themes of loyalty, family and feminism will inspire rewarding dialogue among readers.

In The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II, Judith Mackrell spotlights a roster of unforgettable journalists who forged their own paths as war reporters despite red tape, gender-based prejudice and the hardships of international conflict. Mackrell tells the personal stories of Martha Gellhorn, Clare Hollingworth, Lee Miller, Sigrid Schultz, Helen Kirkpatrick and Virginia Cowles while exploring their remarkable contributions to history. Thoroughly researched and briskly written, Mackrell’s salute to a group of intrepid writers captures the spirit of an era.

Celebrate Women’s History Month with your reading group by picking up a book that honors overlooked female trailblazers.
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Most American history buffs have seen the terrifying photograph of the Ku Klux Klan’s parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925, with the U.S. Capitol visible in the background. Sadly, that’s just a minor glimpse of the klan’s sway during what we prefer to remember as the Jazz Age. But in fact, there are more white robes concealed in musty attic trunks than we may realize; at its height, the klan had 6 million members. 

The KKK originated in defeated Confederate states after the Civil War, but the epicenter of the revived klan in the early 1920s was well to the north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Upper Midwest was a stronghold—particularly Indiana, where the klan effectively controlled the state’s political system. In his latest enthralling historical narrative, A Fever in the Heartland, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Timothy Egan charts the klan’s rapid rise and spectacular collapse in 1920s America.

The new klan rose in reaction to the convergence of four things: high levels of immigration from Catholic and Jewish people, the Great Migration of Black Americans, the release of the racist movie The Birth of a Nation and the widespread popularity of fraternal organizations. The KKK pretended to benignly uphold “Americanism” but not-so-secretly terrorized anyone who wasn’t a white Protestant, with the complicity of a staggering number of clergypeople.

Egan, author of bestsellers including The Worst Hard Time and A Pilgrimage to Eternity, homes in on Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, “the most talented psychopath ever to tread the banks of the Wabash,” who ran the Indiana KKK, of which the governor was a proud member. A serial sexual predator, Stephenson had not-unrealistic aspirations for high office—even the White House. But his plans were derailed when he sexually and physically abused Madge Oberholtzer, an educated young professional whose brave response helped turn public opinion. Egan skillfully leads readers through the horrifying experiences of Oberholtzer and a handful of other beleaguered klan opponents. 

American democracy had a close call in the 1920s. The KKK disintegrated as a powerful political force, but not before its influence helped pass much of its anti-immigrant and Jim Crow agenda. Its malevolence went underground for a while, but history shows that it has resurfaced again and again, like in the 1950s and ’60s. A Fever in the Heartland is just one important chapter in an ongoing history.

The latest enthralling historical narrative from National Book Award-winning author Timothy Egan focuses on the rapid rise and spectacular collapse of the KKK in the 1920s.
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John Randolph, a wealthy enslaver from Virginia, member of Congress for almost 30 years, strong defender of states’ rights and prominent public speaker, died in 1833. In the will that he created in 1821, he stipulated the freeing of every enslaved person on his plantation, which would amount to one of the largest manumissions in American history: 383 people. Before this could happen, however, the court system had to deal with the legality of a will Randolph created in 1832 that did not grant those people freedom. To determine the legality of the latter will, the courts had to consider Randolph’s mental state—whether he was “mad” or sane when he prepared it. Meanwhile, the enslaved people whose freedom was on the line waited anxiously for 13 years for a final decision. When that moment finally came, their resettlement and “freedom” in Ohio turned to disappointment and tragedy. Historian and lawyer Gregory May brilliantly captures these extraordinary events with his compelling, meticulously documented and beautifully written A Madman’s Will: John Randolph, Four Hundred Slaves, and the Mirage of Freedom.

Randolph was not only “a political celebrity, but a colorful character of the first order,” May writes—someone who “always craved public attention” and who, over the course of his political career, both defended and denounced slavery. Two of his early wills, prepared in 1819 and 1821, “freed all of Randolph’s slaves and provided funds to resettle them outside Virginia,” May writes. However, Randolph’s final will did not offer anyone freedom but instead indicated that most of the people enslaved on his plantation would be sold.

May includes a fascinating look at the legal and medical framework the courts used to examine Randolph’s sanity after his death. There were many stories about his “peculiarities,” including “fluctuations between excitement and dejection, enthusiasm and gloom,” especially during the last 10 years of his life. A Madman’s Will also includes other interesting descriptions of testimony, scandal and greed, including entertaining depictions of disappointed relatives who had hoped to be heirs.

In the end, May writes, neither Randolph nor the people he enslaved “could escape the underlying pull of prevailing white assumptions about race and social order.” Many white people could not comprehend the plight of people who were enslaved and were indifferent about their predicament. And so when those 383 formerly enslaved Black people arrived in Mercer County in the “free” state of Ohio, they were met by a white mob—and white residents’ violent objections to their settlement continued from there.

May’s account shows that “freedom” of any kind was virtually impossible for Black people in the United States in the early 1800s, no matter how carefully planned. This important book should be of interest to a wide range of readers interested in American history.

In the compelling and beautifully written A Madman’s Will, Gregory May captures the story of 383 enslaved people who waited 13 years to find out whether or not they were free.

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For genre geeks such as myself, one of the most exciting developments in 21st-century fiction is the embrace of sci-fi, fantasy and horror by so-called “literary” authors. Karen Thompson Walker epitomized this elevating trend in her first genre-bending debut novel, The Age of Miracles (2012). Walker takes on the horror genre with The Dreamers, the tale of an inexplicable sleeping sickness that consumes an entire college town, beginning with a freshman dorm.

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