17 Books to Pick Up This Winter
Doubting daughters, enterprising émigrés, lost lovers.
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A More Beautiful and Terrible History
Jeanne Theoharis's A More Beautiful and Terrible History attempts to reclaim the civil rights narrative from the mythology that has enveloped it, reminding us how profoundly disruptive the fight for racial equality really is, and suggesting "lessons for long-distance runners in the struggle for racial and social justice today." Martin Luther King Jr. comes into particular focus (as does Rosa Parks, the subject of Theoharis's previous book), recast here not as the gentle saint of our collective consciousness, but more accurately as an agitator and radical. Here we get the King who had a 72 percent unfavorable rating among white Americans in a 1966 Gallup poll; the King who said "the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not...the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate"; the King who deemed the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
Theoharis's view of history is expansive, including women and young people without whom the movement would have been impossible, detailing forgotten stories of activists' fights to gain a foothold in the ostensibly less racist North, and criticizing politicians (including Barack Obama) for oversimplifying complex figures. To call this slim volume a compelling attempt to reconcile fact and fable is to underestimate its ambition; what Theoharis desires is nothing less than to show us "who we are and how we got here."
— Dotun Akintoye