The National Book Foundation has announced the long list of nominees for the Nonfiction Awards for 2017, the books which are, in their judgment, the best nonfiction books published in the last year, and The Field Library has six of the finalists here for you. If you are interested in the state of nonfiction nowadays, come in and check out what the National Book Foundation has chosen as the best of the best.
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, by Frances FitzGerald (who already has a Pulitzer Prize under her belt), is the kind of big history book I personally am fascinated to read, the kind of book that takes on a big subject and follows it through centuries. In this case, the book traces the rise of the Evangelical religious movement from its birth as a rebellion against the Protestant Establishment in the Great Awakenings in the 18th and 19th centuries through its split between Northern and Southern sections around the time of the Civil War, through the efforts of Billy Graham to bring all the Protestant groups together in one big tent after World War II to the recent use of social issues by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to bring the white evangelicals into the arms of the Republican party. By putting the movement in its historical context, FitzGerald allows the reader to understand where the movement has been and where it might be going in the future.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman, Jr., takes a subject many people have been paying attention to in the last few years and gives a new perspective on that. Forman is not only a Yale Law professor, but he was a former public defender, so he has both practical and academic expertise in the field of crime and punishment and the disproportionate effect certain policies have had on communities of color. Forman reminds us that when the drug policies which now send so many African Americans to jail were instituted, they were often supported by prominent members of the African American communities involved, who were trying to protect their communities from high crime and especially drug crimes, without realizing what the consequences would be. Locking Up Our Own provides yet another, and valuable, way of looking at the criminal justice system and the people caught in its toils.
I consider myself well versed in American history, but I was startled to learn that in the 1920’s in this country, the richest group of people per capita were members of the Osage Native American tribe, due to the discovery of oil under their lands. What happened to them is the subject of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, a book that reads like a murder mystery, only one that’s actually based on fact. Members of the tribe began dying under mysterious circumstances, and most people who tried to investigate were also killed. The FBI itself was brought in to solve the cases, and failed ignominiously. J. Edgar Hoover, the new director of the Bureau, turned in desperation to a former Texas Ranger who put together a group of investigators, including the only Native American in the Bureau, and, using the era’s best technology and techniques of detection, they began to uncover a conspiracy the likes of which would make people like John Grisham and James Patterson salivate.
Naomi Klein is no stranger to awards or hard-hitting, bestselling nonfiction, so it’s no surprise that her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, is on the longlist for the National Book Award. She explains the rise of Trump and his policies as the logical extension of trends that have been bubbling beneath the world’s surface for decades, and connects his policies to worldwide trends in growing militarism, corporatism and nationalism that are dangerous to the world. Because she’s not just a doomsayer, Klein also outlines a way of turning this situation from a danger to an opportunity to make the world better in what she categorizes as a time of need. A thought-provoking book, whatever your politics.
While we’re on the subject of current politics, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, takes a deeper look at the origins of the Radical Right movement and traces how it’s entangled itself with the Republican Party establishment. The Radical Right, by MacLean’s account, originated with one James McGill Buchanan, a Nobel Prize winning economist and bitter opponent of the Civil Rights movement in the South, who came up with brilliant, if nasty, methods of keeping power away from “undesirables.” When Charles Koch, a multimillionaire, latched onto Buchanan’s ideas and supported them with vast amounts of money, the warping of our political system started for real. If you want to know how the wealthy manage to turn the system to their advantage against the rest of us, Democracy in Chains is an excellent place to start, as the National Book Foundation recognized by including it in the longlist for this year.