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1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder by Arthur HermanWhat it is: a dual biography of two different yet equally important world leaders -- Vladimir Lenin and Woodrow Wilson -- and how their actions at the outset of World War I had long-lasting geopolitical effects.
Why you might like it: Historian Arthur Herman’s unusual pairing provides a fresh look at a pivotal moment in world history.
Further reading: Check out March 1917 by Will England for another study of this critical period, or try Herman’s Gandhi and Churchill for another dual biography of world leaders.
The Danger Within Us : America's Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry... by Jeanne LenzerWhat it is: Journalist and former ER doctor Jeanne Lenzer goes behind the scenes of the medical device industry, a secretive world marked by cover-ups, regulatory failures, corruption, and corporate greed.
Why it’s significant: This is the first book to probe the underbelly of the industry that provides us with pacemakers, artificial hips, and other implants; additionally, medical interventions are a leading cause of death in the United States.
Further reading: If you like riveting, eye-opening investigative journalism into medical ethics, check out A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr and America’s Bitter Pill by Steven Brill.
Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy by Elaine Tyler MayWhat it's about: Author Elaine Tyler May argues that the current American political climate can be traced back to fearful citizens who have embraced personal security (gun ownership, gated communities, and socially isolated lifestyles) – despite the fact that crime rates continue to trend downward.
Why you should read it: This thought-provoking and sobering book not only attempts to explain our polarized world but also warns of the potentially lasting effects of these divisions on American society.
Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art by Sam WassonWhat it is: a sweeping, behind-the-scenes history of American improv comedy, which was born during the McCarthy era and counts Tina Fey and Steve Carell among its current stars.
Why you might like it: As you might expect, this is a funny and fast-moving read that will delight and entertain as it informs.
Reviewers say: “A remarkable story, magnificently told” (Booklist).
The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace by David B. WoolnerWhat it is: a detailed examination of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s last three months in office, including his fierce determination to establish the United Nations and his journey to the Soviet Union for the Yalta Conference.
What sets it apart: FDR’s first 100 days have been examined extensively by other presidential historians; in a new and refreshing contrast, The Last 100 Days argues that, despite his failing health, the end of Roosevelt’s presidency was just as important as the beginning.
Focus on: Black History Month
The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation by David Brion DavisWhat it is: This final volume in historian David Brion Davis’ penetrating three-part chronicle of slavery and emancipation in the Western world covers topics ranging from the Haitian Revolution to U.S. efforts at colonizing freed people.
Why you should read it: Published to critical acclaim, this magisterial history won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction and was shortlisted for the Cundill Prize for Historical Literature.
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans...
by Douglas A. Blackmon
At the end of the Civil War, former slaves looked forward not only to freedom but to economic independence as landowners and entrepreneurs. Former slaveholders, by contrast, were terrified of losing their property and their power. In Slavery by Another Name, journalist Douglas Blackmon vividly recounts the struggles of specific individuals and families and shows how white supremacists recreated the institution of slavery through the penal codes. This riveting account, which relates the stories of African Americans who were heavily fined and sentenced to hard labor for vaguely defined offenses, supplies a grim and important facet of U.S. history.
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric FonerWhat it is: a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian's enthralling chronicle of the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape from bondage in the South and also protected free blacks in the North.
What sets it apart: Author Eric Foner provides gripping accounts of death-defying journeys to freedom, including that of Winnie Patsy, who survived by hiding in a dark, unventilated crawl space with her daughter for five months in Virginia.
March. Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate PowellWhat it is: U.S. Congressman and activist John Lewis’ stirring memoir of his experiences in the civil rights era from 1963-65, co-written with Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell.
What sets it apart: A living icon who participated in key moments in the movement, John Lewis’ firsthand account -- beginning with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church -- is unflinchingly honest and deeply moving.
Further reading: For more about the civil rights movement and its leaders, check out Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge.
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