Subscriber-Only Content. You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, the latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access to over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: PWHelp@omeda.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (outside US/Canada, call +1-847-513-6135) 8:00 am - 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday (Central).

The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives

Adolph L. Reed Jr. Verso, $24.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-83976-626-8

Reed (Without Justice for All), a civil rights activist and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, interweaves memoir and political analysis in this trenchant history of the Jim Crow South. Born in the Bronx, Reed moved with his parents in the late 1950s to Pine Bluff, Ark., and then to New Orleans, where he attended high school. As a middle-class Black youth, Reed recognized that he was somewhat shielded from the “everyday indignities and atrocities” of Jim Crow. While his family and other “respectable” Black people benefited from advanced education and membership in “an elaborate structure of social clubs,” the rural sharecropper children he went to school with were forced to miss months of school during planting season. Reed movingly reflects on how the rules of segregation varied from place to place, causing him to fear as a boy that he might become the next Emmett Till, and vividly evokes 1960s New Orleans, describing the local landmarks and lunch counters he favored and taking note of the “phenotypic gumbo” of south Louisiana, where “passing” as white “was often a straightforwardly pragmatic phenomenon.” His emotional description of the removal of New Orleans’s Confederate monuments in 2017 underscores the racial progress that was unfathomable to him as a young man. This spare, earnest recollection shines a unique light on the fight for racial equality in America. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II

Alex Kershaw. Dutton Caliber, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-18374-8

Kershaw follows up The First Wave with another gripping chronicle of WWII, this time focusing on the U.S. Army’s 3rd Division. Documenting the group’s invasion of North Africa in 1942 and subsequent advance across Italy, France, and Germany, Kershaw highlights the exploits of Medal of Honor recipients including Maurice Britt, Audie Murphy, and Keith Ware. At the four-month siege of Anzio, Italy, Britt, a former football player for the Detroit Lions, lost his right arm. Evacuated to the U.S. as a “vital propaganda figure,” he made radio appearances while 3rd Division regiments liberated Rome and landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Audie Murphy and Keith Ware earned their medals of honor for leading counterattacks in the Colmar Pocket, an area of “formidable German resistance” in Alsace, France, during the harsh winter of 1944–1945. After crossing the Rhine River into Germany, 3rd Division units stormed Nuremberg, concluding “an epic odyssey of combat and liberation” fought by “arguably the finest U.S. infantry division of World War II.” Though the transitions between top commanders and frontline soldiers are sometimes awkward, Kershaw describes his subjects’ heroic acts with earthy exuberance and lucidly explains military strategy. WWII buffs will be enthralled. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Ordinary Equality: The Fearless Women and Queer People Who Shaped the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment

Kate Kelly, illus. by Nicole LaRue. Gibbs Smith, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4236-5872-6

Lawyer and podcaster Kelly focuses this breezy and inspiring history of the fight against gender and sex discrimination on 12 women who pushed for “constitutional equality” for women and other marginalized groups. These historical figures include Molly Brant, or Dagonwadonti (1736–1796), a Haudenosaunee leader whose example of a “strong woman who yielded great political power and authority” was ignored by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, according to Kelly, and first lady Abigail Adams (1744–1818), who famously appealed to her husband, John Adams, to “Remember the Ladies” at the Continental Congress in 1776. Other profile subjects include Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927–2002), the first woman of color elected to Congress and a major contributor to Title IX legislation, and Pat Spearman, a Black state senator from Nevada who spearheaded the state’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 2017, the first such legislative victory since the 1970s. Throughout, Kelly details her own activism on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment and enlivens the proceedings with a dash of irreverence (on Abigail Adams: “She immediately rage-texted her BFF Mercy Otis Warren (via letter)”) that complements the book’s bold graphic design. This spirited introduction to the battle for gender equality will appeal especially to young adults. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Disaster Mon Amour

David Thomson. Yale Univ, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-24694-0

Film Scholar Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film) explores disasters both cinematic and actual in this erudite if uneven collection. The title alludes to the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour, which Thomson argues exemplifies his thesis that “fearsome possibilities cannot escape some irony or romance that may amount to beauty.” The opening essay, “Overture for Two Staircases,” looks at Laurel and Hardy’s short film The Music Box, about the characters’ efforts at getting a piano up a staircase, alongside Sergei Eisenstein’s tragic stairway massacre in The Battleship Potemkin, to demonstrate how closely related the hilarious can be to the horrible. “In San Andreas” offers an analysis of the movie San Andreas and a chronology of disasters in film including the 1936 movie San Francisco and 1974’s Earthquake. The essay also curiously includes a fictional dialogue with an “old lady” who tells him to “get on with your book,” which proves more obfuscating than illuminating. As Thomson moves away from film analysis and into the real world, particularly his views on global warming and the Covid-19 pandemic, things drag and veer more into flat reportage than illuminating critique. Film buffs will find much to consider in his cinema takes, but won’t lose anything by leaving before the curtain falls. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Bette Davis Black and White

Julia A. Stern. Univ. of Chicago, $22.50 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-22681-386-8

Race relations take center stage in this unique biography of actor Bette Davis (1908–1989), in which Stern (Mary Chesnut’s Civil War Epic), an English professor at Northwestern University, recounts Davis’s lesser-known work on behalf of civil rights through the lens of her films. Each chapter is devoted to a different movie: a section on The Little Foxes, for example, spotlights “the power of whiteness as a social marker,” while a look at In This Our Life questions Davis’s ability to play a “virulent bigot... while simultaneously working to promote racial equality in the world.” Stern also weaves in perspective on James Baldwin’s critical writings, noting that his “essays on his own experience as a Black film spectator remain among the finest meditations on race and classical Hollywood cinema ever written,” and she adds texture by recounting her own memories of watching Davis’s films: “I remember yelling at the screen during my first viewing,” she writes of Baby Jane. Readers in search of a straightforward biography won’t find it here—the actual trajectory of Davis’s own life takes a backseat to an appreciation of the impact of her civil rights efforts. It’s a fascinating look at a cinematic legend. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Never Give Up: My Life in the Wild

Bear Grylls. National Geographic, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4262-2262-7

Grylls (Mud, Sweat and Tears), star of Man vs. Wild, looks back at the “greatest hits” of his career as a professional adventurer in this exhilarating autobiography. With a laconic sense of humor, he takes fans behind the scenes of his show and how it’s impacted his life—including being “asked more times than is imaginable, do I really drink my own urine?” (He has, on occasion, but only “in the name of survival.”) Just as enthralling are recollections of his encounters with some of the world’s most powerful figures—such as when he recounts the mind-boggling logistics of having former president Obama on an episode of his show Running Wild (a “Running Wild Presidential Special”), and having to account for over 50 Secret Service agents. Doled out in short, punchy chapters that jump back and forth through time, Grylls’s narrative never lets up as he shares his deep and abiding love for the natural world and hard-earned lessons from his travels (“Don’t screw with polar bears”). And his humbleness is made evident throughout—from his giving thanks to the “many unseen kindnesses” of his shows’ crews to his quotidian complaints about aging and annoyance “at how much it hurts to get up in the morning nowadays.” Fans won’t want to miss this. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Shelter: A Black Tale of Homeland, Baltimore

Lawrence Jackson. Graywolf, $17 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-64445-083-3

A Black man makes a conflicted return to his roots in this bittersweet meditation on race and belonging. In 2016, Jackson (My Father’s Name) moved back to his hometown of Baltimore to take a professorship in English at Johns Hopkins University, and bought a house in the upscale white neighborhood of Homeland—formerly a slave owner’s estate and a far cry from the inner-city surroundings of his boyhood. He found the battle to maintain his house to the homeowners association’s standards a source of satisfaction—the yard-work scenes are epic and engrossing—but also of anxiety as he worried about implied accusations by old friends of Uncle Tom–ism. On that peg he hangs an atmospheric history of Black Baltimore, sketching vivid profiles of famous locals—a tragic Billie Holiday, an ambitious Frederick Douglass who “refused to believe that the rules... applied to him”—while revisiting old haunts, surveying political wrangles over poverty and crime, and taking in a King Day parade that gets stymied by horse manure. In resonant prose, Jackson ably conveys the feuding aspirations and unease of the Black middle class: “I want my son to have the confidence of the people who owned the land, without having to hate himself for it.” The result is a stirring reflection on the meaning of home. Agent: Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town

John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Dey Street, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-307447-7

FBI profiler Douglas and Olshaker (Mindhunter) tell the riveting story of how the FBI, working with local law enforcement officers, cracked the case of a particularly nasty killer. In rural South Carolina in 1985, 17-year-old Shari Smith was kidnapped from her family’s driveway by a man who later raped and suffocated her. The killer called the Smith home multiple times and mailed the parents their child’s last will and testament before telling them where to find her body. Two weeks later, he did the same to nine-year-old Debra May Helmick. Douglas, who was called in on the case, discovered that Larry Gene Bell, a 36-year-old electrician’s assistant, fit the FBI’s profile of a white male who had served in the military. The authors describe in dramatic detail how Bell was finally caught (clues included the imprint of a phone number lifted from the sheet of paper on which Shari had written her will) and the two trials that ended in death sentences, as well as the sense of terror in the small town and the incredible faith of the Smith family and their community. Peppered with other FBI profiling cases, this is required reading for those interested in the early years of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Agent: Frank Weimann, Folio Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free

Sarah Weinman. Ecco, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-289976-7

In this mesmerizing account, Weinman (The Real Lolita) does a masterly job resurrecting a stranger-than-fiction chapter in American criminal justice. In 1957, unemployed veteran Edgar Smith was arrested for bludgeoning 15-year-old Victoria Zielinski to death in Mahwah, N.J. Smith, who testified in his own defense at his trial, was sentenced to death. In 1962, after conservative intellectual William F. Buckley learned Smith was an admirer of Buckley’s magazine, National Review, Buckley began corresponding with Smith, leading to an unlikely friendship and financial support for legal efforts to spare Smith’s life. Smith, who published both a book about his case and a mystery novel from behind bars, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder during a retrial, and in 1971 he was released for time served. In 1976, Smith stabbed a woman nearly to death in California. (During his testimony at the subsequent trial, he admitted to killing Zielinski.) Weinman’s dogged research, which included correspondence with Smith, who died in prison in 2017, and a study of Buckley’s papers, enable her to craft a deeply unsettling narrative about how a clever killer manipulated the justice system to his benefit. This instant classic raises disturbing questions about gullibility even on the part of the very bright. Agent: David Patterson, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life

Richard K. Rein. Island, $35 (328p) ISBN 978-1-64283-170-2

Journalist Rein debuts with an intriguing intellectual biography of journalist and urbanist William “Holly” Whyte (1917–1999). Though Whyte is best known today for his 1956 bestseller, The Organization Man, a study of life within corporations, Rein uncovers his contributions to urban landscapes such as New York City’s Bryant Park, which he helped redesign in 1988, as well as his influence on protégés including Jane Jacobs and Paco Underhill. Growing up in a small town near Philadelphia, Whyte gained a reputation as an unconventional thinker, according to Rein. After graduating from Princeton in 1939, Whyte worked as a Vicks VapoRub sales rep and served in the Marines during WWII. Following the war, he became a writer and editor at Fortune magazine, where his research for The Organization Man involved close observation of the suburban communities where his subjects lived, which sparked a lifelong passion for understanding the factors, including walkability, sidewalk width, and access to open spaces, that contribute to the quality of urban life. His pioneering thinking, grounded in data garnered from field observations, was implemented by the New York City Planning Commission and has inspired worldwide efforts to maximize the joys of city living. Rein foregrounds Whyte’s own writing and analyses, which were remarkably prescient. The result is a welcome tribute to a visionary thinker. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Forgot Password

Premium online access is only available to PW subscribers. If you have an active subscription and need to set up or change your password, please click here.

New to PW? To set up immediate access, click here.

NOTE: If you had a previous PW subscription, click here to reactivate your immediate access. PW site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. If working at an office location and you are not "logged in", simply close and relaunch your preferred browser. For off-site access, click here. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options, please email Mike Popalardo at: mike@nextstepsmarketing.com.

To subscribe: click here.