6 book recommendations from Adam Serwer
The writer recommends works by W.E.B. Du Bois, Isabel Wilkerson, and more
Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The Atlantic who often uses the lens of history to provide perspective on today's politics. His first book, The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America, is a collection of essays.
Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois (1935).
This history of America's tumultuous post–Civil War period was a fiery dissent from the elite scholarly consensus represented by the Dunning School, the collective of white historians whose romanticizing of the Confederate cause helped justify the imposition of Jim Crow. Du Bois' book is a Rosetta Stone to the economic and political conflicts that divided America before and since. Buy it here.
The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter (2010).
An astonishing work on the invention of race and its devastating effect on the world. Painter journeys from the ancient world to the present, through the misinterpretations, accidents of fate, human greed, and work of committed ideologues that led to nations and societies being built on the cornerstone of a lie. Buy it here.
Impossible Subjects by Mae Ngai (2004).
This is a history of illegal immigration, a subject whose political and historical context is generally poorly understood. Ngai shows how the United States went from an essentially open-borders nation, for people of European descent, to one whose borders are strictly policed. Buy it here.
Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula Giddings (2008).
This is technically a biography of the crusading, anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells, but it's about so much more: the feuds and friendships of that era's Black rights activists, how the suffrage movement abandoned Black women, and the descent of an ostensibly democratic society into the shadow of racial authoritarianism. Buy it here.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010).
Wilkerson's insight as a reporter gives the stories of the people she follows through the Great Migration an almost novelistic sensibility. Her technique lets readers watch one of American history's most important events unfold through the eyes of individual people who experienced it. Buy it here.
Racial Realignment by Eric Schickler (2016).
Many people take for granted that economic and racial liberalism are core principles of the Democratic Party, but they weren't always. Schickler shows how, beginning in the 1930s, a coalition of civil rights activists and labor unions pushed the Democratic Party left and split it from its Southern roots, even as the party of Lincoln opened its arms to the disaffected white Democrats left behind. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.