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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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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