In two previous books, Lose Your Mother and Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman pioneered “critical fabulation,” an approach combining archival research, critical theory, and fictional narrative to explore the afterlife of slavery and the effects of racism and exile on African-American identity. In her new book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W.W. Norton, $28.95), she uses a similar methodology to examine a generation of young Black women who rebelled against traditional social and cultural constraints. Focusing on the urban experience of Black women in the early twentieth century, Hartman, a Guggenheim Fellow and professor at Columbia, uses history and literary imagination to trace the lives of women who rejected both degrading conditions of work and normative gender roles in personal relationships, showing how these experiments in work, sex, and marriage constituted a radical transformation of Black intimate and social life.
Elliott Maraniss was a talented newspaperman when, in 1952, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for his communist affi liations. He lost his job and was blacklisted for five years, yet retained his faith in the United States and went on eventually to a successful career in journalism. In A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father (Simon & Schuster, $28), David Maraniss tells his dad’s story along with the stories of others who were in the Committee hearing room—members of the Committee, his dad’s lawyer, and the FBI informant who named him. Through these individual histories, Maraniss explores what it means to be an American. On one level, the book is a touching family tale about a son’s search for his father’s past, but on a larger level it’s a resonant story with enduring universal significance, a tale of courage, conviction, betrayal, political opportunism, reckoning, and ultimately American identity.
The challenge of reuniting the nation after the Civil War was as fraught as the confl ict itself. As Brenda Wineapple, award-winning author of Ecstatic Nation, shows in her detailed history, The Impeachers (Random House, $32), Congress was divided over questions including restoring the South to its ante-bellum status, punishing former Confederates, and granting the vote to freed Blacks. President Andrew Johnson, however, felt that Reconstruction was unnecessary, opposed civil rights, and, flouting Congress, invoked executive orders to swiftly pardon the rebel soldiers. In response, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him—a decision not taken lightly. Retracing this unprecedented event step-by-step, Wineapple examines questions of the separation of powers and the meaning of the nation’s core values, as well as bringing to life a host of fascinating and complex figures such as William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and
Ulysses S. Grant.