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Summer Nonfiction

Pick up one of these recommended nonfiction titles to pass the long days of summer. We're featuring historical writings to contemporary issues on this list.

 

Barracoon

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation's history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo's firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

 

Damnation Island

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy Horn

Today we call it Roosevelt Island. Then, it was Blackwell's, site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals. Conceived as the most modern, humane incarceration facility the world ever seen, Blackwell's Island quickly became, in the words of a visiting Charles Dickens, "a lounging, listless madhouse." Stacy Horn has crafted a compelling and chilling narrative told through the stories of the poor souls sent to Blackwell's, as well as the period's city officials, reformers, and journalists (including the famous Nellie Bly).

 

The Line Becomes a River

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border by Francisco Cantu

Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Francisco Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story.

 

Squeezed

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America by Alissa Quart

Squeezed weaves together intimate reporting with sharp and lively critique to show how the high cost of parenthood and our increasingly unstable job market have imploded the middle-class American Dream for many families and offers surprising solutions for how we might change things.

 

West Like Lightning

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express by Jim Defelice

On the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation's two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Daring young men with colorful names like "Bronco Charlie" and "Sawed-Off Jim" galloped at speed over a vast and unforgiving landscape, etching an irresistible tale that passed into myth almost instantly. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart.