From Suffrage to Cold War Writers: History Previews, Feb. 2019, Pt. 3 | Prepub Alert

History in February 2019 covers the Hispanic roots of the United States, the nation's far-flung territories, the power of writers during the Cold War, and the consequences of Chernobyl, among other topics.

Cassidy, Tina. Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right To Vote. Atria. Feb. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781501177767. $28. HISTORY

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, Inkhouse executive Cassidy chronicles suffragist Alice Paul’s fight for the right to vote, beginning with her organizing 8,000 suffragists to march while Woodrow Wilson was taking the presidential oath of office. (Labor lawyer Inez Milholland led the procession on a white horse.) Paul got to meet with Wilson but had to organize more marches and endure jail time, solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and confinement to mental institutions before suffrage triumphed.

Gibson, Carrie. El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2019. 576p. ISBN 9780802127020. $30. HISTORY

The United States sees its heritage as essentially Anglo, but as clarified here by Gibson (Empire’s Crossroads), the nation has older Spanish roots and enduring Spanish influence, from Ponce de León’s 1513 landing in Florida and Spanish rule in the Louisiana Territory to America’s acquisition of Puerto Rico and continuing border tensions with Mexico. As Walt Whitman said, “To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts.” Still working on it.

Higginbotham, Adam. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. S. & S. Feb. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781501134616. $28. HISTORY

The April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe highlighted the dangers of nuclear power and the fragility of the environment while leaving behind a barbed wire–wrapped 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone. (Stray dogs from the zone are still being rescued and rehabilitated.) It also hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrating acute political failure and costing a fortune—at the time the equivalent of $18 billion. Grounded in two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Higginbotham’s first book details both event and consequences.

Immerwahr, Daniel. How To Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. Farrar. Feb. 2019. 528p. ISBN 9780374172145. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780374715120. HISTORY

From islands, atolls, and archipelagos, the Guano Islands, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, there’s a United States beyond the familiar 50-state map. Northwestern professor Immerwahr, author of the award-winning Thinking Small, tracks the history of these territories and shows that current control is less about dominating space than dominating culture and everyday life.

Keefe, Patrick Radden. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. Doubleday. Feb. 2019. 496p. ISBN 9780385521314. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385543378. lrg. prnt. Downloadable. HISTORY/TRUE CRIME

National Magazine Award winner Keefe, a staff writer at The New Yorker, chronicles the bloody, late 20th-century conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles via the December 1972 murder of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of ten alleged by the IRA to have passed information to British forces. McConville’s bones were finally found and identified in 2003, and Keefe shows that the consequences of Northern Ireland’s guerrilla war have never been truly assessed.

Luxenberg, Steve. Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation. Norton. Feb. 2019. 560p. ISBN 9780393239379. $35. HISTORY

A Pulitzer Prize–winning senior editor at the Washington Post who won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for this study, Luxenberg (Annie’s Ghost) examines Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court case that upheld the constitutionality of segregated public facilities as long as they were (supposedly) equal, thus sanctioning the “separate but equal” doctrine that has tainted American society to the present. Look for library marketing and op-eds at the time of publication.

Nelson, James Carl. The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia. Morrow. Feb. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062852779. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062852793. HISTORY

Not a story most of us know: in August 1918, the 339th regiment of the U.S. Army sailed to Archangel, Russia, 1,000 miles northeast of Moscow, to help anti-Bolshevik forces defeat the Red Army and thereby, it was hoped, reopen the eastern front against Germany. The American North Russia Expeditionary Force—nicknamed the Polar Bear Expedition—continued fighting until July 1919, long after World War I was over. A decade later, veterans returned to collect 100 of their fallen brethren; a huge and ferocious-looking marble polar bear guards one left behind. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Swenson, Kyle. Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America. Picador. Feb. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781250120236. $29; ebk. ISBN 9781250120243. PENOLOGY

In the early 1970s, based on the shaky testimony of preteen Ed Vernon, three African American men—Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman and Rickey Jackson—were convicted of a particularly vicious robbery in Cleveland. Four decades later, Vernon recanted his testimony, and the men were released. Award-winning Washington Post reporter Swenson investigates an egregious miscarriage of justice in terms of both Cleveland’s and America’s discriminatory history. 

White, Duncan. Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War. Custom House: HarperCollins. Feb. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780062449818. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062449825. HISTORY

Literature can make a difference; during the Cold War, it could win adherents to the locked-horn doctrines of capitalism and communism and get writers imprisoned, exiled, or killed. Harvard lecturer White, a lead book reviewer for the Daily Telegraph, focuses on George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Mary McCarthy, Graham Greene, and Andrei Sinyavsky but goes further afield as he explores how friend could turn against friend in this anxious environment and U.S., UK, and USSR secret agents waged literary warfare.


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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Book Review; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, to which she has just been reelected.

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