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6 New Books We Recommend This Week

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Anybody interested in a quick survey of United States history could do worse than this week’s recommended titles. Start with Sean Wilentz’s “No Property in Man,” which argues that the Constitution’s framers took pains (however strangled or surreptitious they were) to ensure slavery’s eventual demise. Then move on to David W. Blight’s new biography of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who as an orator became one of the towering figures of the abolition movement and lived three decades past emancipation to see the cusp of the 20th century. Then read Deborah Blum’s account of industrial food practices in the early 1900s, and of the government regulator who made it his mission to combat contamination and outright fraud. Finally, Derek Leebaert’s “Grand Improvisation” traces America’s rise as a superpower after World War II, and argues that Britain played a bigger role than is generally acknowledged.

If you’re looking for a more global perspective — or just for some fiction, after all that history — we also recommend a novel about sexual politics and fertility in traditional Indian society, and a historical novel about a mermaid on the loose in 18th-century London.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight. (Simon & Schuster, $37.50.) The first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades makes ample use of previously unavailable materials to illuminate Douglass’s later years, after the Civil War. “Blight isn’t looking to overturn our understanding of Douglass, whose courage and achievements were unequivocal, but to complicate it — a measure by which this ambitious and empathetic biography resoundingly succeeds,” our critic Jennifer Szalai says.

ONE PART WOMAN, by Perumal Murugan. Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. (Black Cat, $16.) This novel about a religious festival in which childless women are permitted to sleep with men other than their husbands, in the hope of becoming pregnant, roiled India in 2015, when the book was torched in the streets and there were calls for a ban. Given that, this “simple story with a powerful undertow” feels “shockingly tame,” our critic Parul Sehgal says. “Murugan works his themes with a light hand.”

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Summary | 4 Annotations
Anybody interested in a quick survey of United States history could do worse than this week’s recommended titles. Start with Sean Wilentz’s “No Property in Man
2018/11/02 01:20
THE POISON SQUAD: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Deborah Blum
2018/11/02 01:20
THE MERMAID AND MRS. HANCOCK, by Imogen Hermes Gowar. (Harper/HarperCollins, $28.99.) This lively historical novel sets a sharp-clawed sea creature adrift on the raucous social tides of 18th-century London
2018/11/02 01:21
NO PROPERTY IN MAN: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding, by Sean Wilentz. (Harvard, $26.95.) Wilentz’s revealing and passionately argued book contends that the American Constitution
2018/11/02 01:22