Stellar research in women’s history, especially crucial due to recent threats to abortion rights across the country.

THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN

SEX, CENSORSHIP, & CIVIL LIBERTIES IN THE GILDED AGE

How the reactionary Christian ideology of one government official contributed to the suppression of women’s reproductive freedom for decades.

In this important work of biographical history, novelist Sohn traces the career of Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), special agent to the U.S. Post Office and secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. For more than 40 years, Comstock, a deeply Christian dry goods seller from Connecticut, harassed and imprisoned many of the important pioneers in the birth control movement. “He became convinced that obscenity, which he called a ‘hydra-headed monster,’ led to prostitution, illness, death, abortions, and venereal disease,” writes the author. In 1873, with the aid of well-heeled YMCA leaders, he was able to pass the Comstock Act, which “made the distribution, selling, possession, and mailing of obscene material and contraception punishable with extreme fines and prison sentences.” Wielding this law, he doggedly pursued freethinking, activist women and their supporters as they attempted to speak and write about women’s bodies, sexual matters, and abortion. These activists included the sisters Victoria C. Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, stockbrokers, spiritualists, and “free lovers”; Angela and Ezra Heywood, printers and writers; abortionist Ann “Madam Restell” Lohman, who committed suicide rather than be prosecuted; Dr. Sara B. Chase, who, in defiance, named her popular birth control device the “Comstock Syringe”; Ida Craddock, a spiritual consultant and writer on happy marital sex, who also killed herself when prosecuted; Emma Goldman, anarchist and birth control activist; and Margaret Sanger, who took on Comstock in court and prevailed in starting the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. Throughout this immensely readable history, Sohn fashions sympathetic narratives of these women’s lives and underscores their invaluable sacrifices for a vital cause. Many readers will be appalled to learn that literature about birth control was once considered obscene.

Stellar research in women’s history, especially crucial due to recent threats to abortion rights across the country.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-17481-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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