Rebecca Traister’s new book was one of the most anticipated works of non-fiction in 2016, and for good reason. Described by writer Anne Lamott as “the most brilliant voice on feminism in this country,” Traister had already produced a searing examination of sexism and gender stereotyping in the 2008 presidential campaign (Big Girls Don’t Cry) before turning her attention to the experience of unmarried women throughout American history. All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Simon & Schuster, $27; paper, $17) is a masterful exploration of how unmarried women are redefining notions of love, attachment, and marriage, and in the process are gaining unprecedented political, social, and economic power. Traister intersperses her own personal (and often very funny) experiences into the larger historical context, making for a fascinating book that has serious implications for American politics now and in the future.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is here at last. To introduce itself, the long-awaited nineteenth member of the Smithsonian Institution commissioned essays from two dozen leading scholars and writers. These join nearly 280 photos of objects from the museum’s vast collection for the handsome, revelatory Dream a World Anew (Smithsonian, $40). Taking its title from a Langston Hughes poem and closing with Maya Angelou’s injunction to “lift up your hearts,” the book is truly an inspiration—one grounded in several centuries of struggle. Curated by the museum staff under the guidance of editor and deputy director Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Dream traces the experiences of African Americans from slavery to the Civil War, Reconstruction to the Great Migration, the Civil Rights movement to the cultural achievements of today. The photos include familiar faces—Harriet Tubman, Ralph Abernathy, Nina Simone—and introduce new ones—a former slave who sued for freedom and became a millionaire, a decorated World War I hero—along with objects ranging from Nat Turner’s Bible to minstrel show posters to Michael Jackson’s black fedora. The museum’s mission, as founding director Lonnie G. Bunche III states in his introduction, is to show “new audiences…the impact of black history and culture…to centralize the African American experience as a history that has shaped the identity of all Americans”; this book makes an exciting and important contribution to that end.
The kidnapping of Patty Hearst by an obscure group of self-styled, violent revolutionaries calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army became one of the defining events of the 1970s. Unfolding live on nationwide TV, it riveted viewers for months as Hearst, a granddaughter of famed publisher William Randolph Hearst, appeared to side with her captors, posed as a machine-gun toting Tania—her nom the guerre—joined in robberies, and conspired to set off bombs. Arrested after nineteen months and charged with robbery, Hearst argued that her actions had been coerced. But she was convicted and sentenced to seven years, only to be released by Jimmy Carter after twenty-two months and ultimately pardoned by Bill Clinton. She married, wrote a memoir, and went on to lead a life of comfort and privilege. But in American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst (Doubleday, $28.95), legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin brings new information and insight to what we thought we knew about this extraordinary story and to the central question of whether Hearst was a brainwashed victim or a willing participant in the SLA’s crimes.