The Common Good

In the Stacks

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

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Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

‘Help Me to Find My People’

By Heather Andrea Williams, Reviewed by Imani Perry

Heather Andrea Williams explores the effects of slavery’s separation of black families.

“Who are your people?” It’s a question exchanged often by black Southerners to identify kith and kin. But few remember that its roots can be traced to the after­math of the Civil War. Once emancipated, former slaves desperately searched for family members who had been sold away from them. Their plaintive entreaty — “Help me to find my people” — provides the title and the subject of Heather Andrea Williams’s latest book.

An associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Williams examines the historical fact of family separation and renders its emotional truth. She is the rare scholar who writes history with such tenderness that her words can bring a reader to tears.

‘America’s Great Debate’

By Fergus M. Bordewich, Reviewed by Richard Brookhiser

With the rift between North and South widening, the Compromise of 1850 both staved off a civil war and made one inevitable.

Fergus M. Bordewich has written a lively, attractive book about a fearsome and almost intractable crisis: the tangle of issues involving expansion and slavery that confronted the political class of the United States in 1850. Sectional passions ran so high then that there was a real danger of secession, perhaps even civil war. But thanks to two senators — Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas — and numerous bit players, Congress adopted a package of compromises that allowed the country to stumble along in one piece for 11 more years.

‘Fateful Lightning’

By Allen C. Guelzo, Reviewed by David S. Reynolds

Allen C. Guelzo details the arguments behind the Civil War.

Civil War fever is raging. Last year, the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, brought a number of war-related books, ranging from microstudies of a specific time or theme … to macro-­overviews of the whole era, … Guelzo’s book is a shining example of the virtues of the macro approach when it is undertaken with energy and efficiency. By panning out and reviewing the events that occurred over several decades, Guelzo offers a useful synthesis of the developing Civil War narrative, from the antebellum slavery debate through the four-year bloody struggle, followed by the decade-­long denouement of Reconstruction. The story, of course, is a familiar one, but there’s still no general agreement about its meaning.

 

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