2023 Holiday Picks - History


Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution by Cat Bohannon. Enough already about the origin of man -let’s take a look at human evolution through the lens of the female. That's the crux of this erudite, witty, and scientifically illuminating study that offers a paradigm shift in our thinking about what the female body is, how it came to be, and how this evolution still shapes all our lives. In Bohannon’s own words, "We have to put the female body in the picture. If we don't, it's not just feminism that's compromised. Modern medicine, neurobiology, paleoanthropology, even evolutionary biology all take a hit when we ignore the fact that half of us have breasts.”

Flee North: A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery’s Borderland by Scott Shane. This vibrant character study of Black abolitionist Thomas Smallwood and his odd-couple partnership with white abolitionist Charles Torrey uncovers astonishing new information about the history of the Underground Railroad. In an exhilarating narrative that reads like a thriller, Shane reveals Smallwood to have possessed a canny understanding of how to use media to amplify radical activism, an insight that feels ahead of his time.

The Riders Come Out At Night by Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham. This is a captivating and extensive investigative look into the brutality and misconduct of a group of vigilante cops in the Oakland Police Department who terrorized Black and low-income neighborhoods during Jerry Brown's tenure as mayor in the late 1990’s and early aughts. Rich in detail and paced like a thriller, the book places Oakland within a larger historical context as a city with a complicated 150+ year history with police. It is necessary reading to deeper understand the dynamics of race, power, and collusion within the OPD. 

The Wager by David Grann. Grann is a master of enthralling historical nonfiction. Like his previous books, Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z, The Wager is as engaging as it is informative, a tale of adventure and empire, plague and death, mutiny, starvation, and shipwreck on the high seas, all culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. The powerful narrative - set during the mid-18th century -  reveals the deeper meaning of the events on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire.