Of Current Interest: Nonfiction, Sept. 2023, Pt. 1 | Prepub Alert

Social justice, vaccines, dreams. 

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Ahmed, Azam. Fear Is Just a Word: A Missing Daughter, a Violent Cartel, a Mother’s Quest for Vengeance. Random. Sept. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593448410. $28. HISTORY/ LATIN AMERICAN

A global investigative correspondent for the New York Times and its former bureau chief in Mexico, Ahmed here tells two stories. He chronicles the efforts of Miriam Rodríguez to bring to justice the men responsible for the murder of her 20-year-old daughter, Karen, while also clarifying the violence haunting Mexico today by revealing how the Zeta drug cartel came to dominate Miriam’s quiet hometown on the U.S.-Mexico border.

DeBoer, Fredrik. How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement. S. & S. Sept. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9781668016015. $29.99. POLITICAL SCIENCE

Author of the New York Times best-booked The Cult of Smart, DeBoer argues that recent social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the Gen Z crusade for economic and environmental justice haven’t effected significant change because they tend to be dominated by educated, well-off individuals not as personally vested as grass-rooters in the outcomes. Here he suggests how such individuals can contribute without taking over.

Gurba, Myriam. Creep: Accusations and Confessions. Avid Reader: S. & S. Sept. 2023. ISBN 9781982186470. $27. MEMOIR

Queer spoken-word performer, visual artist, and writer Gurba follows up her acclaimed memoir Mean with another work called memoir (and sure to draw on the personal) but perhaps better seen as fierce and engaging cultural criticism. Here she assesses the meanness, the ugliness, the sheer creepiness that creeps through our social structures, showing how abuse of any kind is ultimately a community act and how to counter it.

Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth. What If We Get It Right? Visions of Climate Futurism. One World: Ballantine. Sept. 2023. ISBN 9780593229361. $28. Downloadable. MEMOIR/SCIENCE

Through her work, marine biologist Johnson knows that we are in the midst of environmental crisis, but she refuses to give up hope. Here she explores human interconnectedness to nature and shows the progress that has been made in sustainability while wanting to lift us beyond electric cars and solar panels. What’s needed, she argues, is cultural change, globally and locally.

Jones, Robert P. The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future. S. & S. Sept. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9781668009512. $29.99. HISTORY

Author of the award-winning White Too Long and The End of White Christian America, Jones tracks white supremacy back to 15th-century Church Doctrine (as stated in Papal Bulls) that sanctioned the European subjugation of non-Christians as enemies of Christ and the brutal conquest of their lands as meant by God for Christians. He then moves on to contemporary communities in Mississippi, Minnesota, and Oklahoma to show how white supremacy can be countered.

Love, Bettina L. Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9781250280381. $29. Downloadable. EDUCATION

The William F. Russell Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and cofounder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, Love excoriates four decades’ worth of racist public-school policy that has allowed policing, closure, and loss of funding in the name of reform and condemned Black children in particular to substandard education—and then condemned them as low-performing. She further calls on leading U.S. economists to see how we can repair the damage and build better school systems. With a 300,000-copy first printing.

McWhirter, Cameron & Zusha Elinson. American Gun: The Story of the AR-15, the Rifle That Has Divided a Nation. Farrar. Sept. 2023. 496p. ISBN 9780374103859. $32. Downloadable. HISTORY

Wall Street Journal reporters McWhirter and Elinson track the history of the AR-15 from its 1950s invention as an easy-to-use replacement for World War II’s M1s through its use (as M16s) during the Vietnam War to its current notoriety as the weapon favored by mass shooters. Along the way, they seek to clarify the U.S. gun culture, explaining why the weapon appeals to some even as others demand its ban, given the bloodshed it has wrought. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Mounk, Yascha. The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time. Penguin Pr. Sept. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9780593493182. $29. POLITICS

Born in Germany to Polish Jewish parents, educated at Cambridge and Harvard, and an associate professor in international affairs at Johns Hopkins, Mounk considered whether democracies are viable in The Great Experiment, one of Barack Obama’s favorite reads. Here he considers identity issues, recognizing that oppressed groups must seek relief but arguing that a too tight focus on identity is counterproductive, compelling government to see people not as individuals but types and inadvertently aligning those promoting the rights of marginalized groups with those countering them—in particular, the MAGA supporters who are in fact the biggest identity practitioners of all.

Richardson, Heather Cox. Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. Viking. Sept. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780593652961. $30. lrg. prnt. HISTORY/POLITICS

During Donald Trump's 2019 impeachment, Boston College professor Richardson provided historical background in a daily Facebook essay that eventually became a newsletter with more than two million followers. Here, she moves from the Founders and the abolitionists, through the New Deal, to Barry Goldwater and Mitch McConnell as she traces how and why the country’s democratic ideals are being challenged.

Rogers, Katie. American Woman: Jill Biden and the Transformation of the Modern First Lady. Crown. Sept. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593240564. $28. BIOGRAPHY

A White House correspondent for the New York Times, Rogers tracks the life and accomplishments of Jill Biden to reveal how much the role of First Lady has changed—and considers where it might head in the future. Among other things, Biden is the only First Lady in history to work outside of the White House.

Schama, Simon. Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations. Ecco. Sept. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781328974839. $32.99. CD. SCIENCE/HISTORY

A multi-award-winning, best-selling Columbia University historian, Schama ( Citizens) offers the entwined histories of pandemic and disease eradication, considering how vaccines were developed, why pandemics are increasing in frequency, and what political, cultural, and personal forces shape the ongoing battle against disease. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Uygur, Cenk. Justice Is Coming: How Progressives Are Going To Take Over the Country and America Is Going to Love It. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9781250272799. $30. Downloadable. POLITICS

Founder and CEO of the Young Turks, a progressive news and commentary program that is among the world’s largest, Uygur is here to counter the notion that the United States is an essentially conservative nation and that gridlock in Congress is inevitable. He instead offers a manifesto for pursuing progressive policies and explaining their benefits. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; winner of ALA's Louis Shores Award for reviewing; and past president, awards chair, and treasurer of the National Book Critics Circle, which awarded her its inaugural Service Award in 2023.

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