The final pages of another year are upon us.
Time for a look back on the new books we read this year. Didn’t have time for many, but the following ones stood out.
A young Ben Lindbergh came to Politics and Prose in 2011, a peach-fuzzed rookie on a Baseball Prospectus panel with the likes of veterans such as Jay Jaffe and Clay Davenport. The kid has matured into not only a fine sabermetric analysis, but he lived a dream many of his peers could only file under “Fantasy Baseball.”
For the 2015 season, Lindbergh and co-author Sean Miller helped run the Sonoma Stompers, an indie league team north of San Francisco. Paul Swydan of The Hardball Times makes the great point that the book has equal parts saber metrics and moves and loving baseball. In support of his book, Lindbergh spoke at Bus Boys and Poets in Washington, a full house.
The Last Innocents, The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers by Michael Leahy
A Giants fan buys a book about the Dodgers and enjoys it.
Yep, that was me this year.
As I wrote in my review of this terrific book, it allowed me to catch up on some things I missed as a child growing up in North Carolina in the sixties. Half the time we didn’t even get the boxscores until the afternoon paper.
Troubled Refuge by Sandra Manning
We need more and more good books on black history. This one shows how it can be done, shining a light on the situation in places like Alexandria where previously enslaved Americans self emancipated, but struggled on those first steps of freedom.
Apparently some don’t like the word refuge but Manning uses it in a sympathetic and meaningful way.
Manning spoke at the Alexandria Black History Museum and her return here was a homecoming of sorts, as she used to live in Old Town.
Our nation bears a shameful scar, in some ways a wound that won’t heal. Congress failed to pass an anti-lynching law in the 20th century. In 1892, more than 200 were killed this awful way. Between 1882 and 1964, almost 5,000 were lynched by angry mobs. Justice for these victims hides like bats in a cave.
An antidote to this horrible feeling is the knowledge that an impactful form of justice finally came in the 1980s. Morris Dees, an attorney who co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, brought a civil law suit against the United Klans of America. He charged them with conspiracy in the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald, a young black man in Alabama. An all-white jury awarded his mother with $7M in damages, a sum that bankrupted the UKA and sent a message that justice could prevail.
In his praise of this book, Douglas Brinkley makes the case for this story to become a major motion picture. We’d like to see it.
Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital by John P. Richardson
Lists of essential books on Washington vary. Mine include "Capitol Losses," "Washington at Home," "The Guide to Black Washington," "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators : The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball," and "Personal History" by Katherine Graham.
A long over due book in this capital canon was a bio of Alexander “Boss” Shepherd. Richardson takes us through the post civil war period when Washington grew from a sagging city with muddy streets to a capital that the nation could be more proud of. Shepherd overreached, however, and paid the price.
In the 1950s, the owner of the Lyceum building asked the Alexandria City Council to rezone the 200 block of S. Washington Street, so he could demolish the Greek-Revival building and put up commercial space. Filled with courtroom-like drama, the midnight hour, 4 to 3 vote in the Chamber saved the historic landmark treasure.
Alexandria is a leader in preservation, but the bad news is many other locales are not. Perhaps the biggest barrier is getting them to know the benefits and money savings of adaptive re-use.
A handbook for these purposes has emerged with Stephanie Meeks. Her chapter titled "The Greenest Buildings: Preservation, Climate Change and the Environment" is a clarion call and has the power to do so much good.
Our Book of the Year
A tough one as usual, but we select “The Past and Future City.” For far too long we as global inhabitants have abused the planet. Everything we do on Earth is important, but noting is more important than acting now to modify our behavior and take care of the place we call home.
We all have our favorite reading places, but the classic image is a summer reader pushing their toes in the sand and kicking back with a book.
These readers have always known where to plant their chair, the place where the creamy foam of high tide begins to fall back.
If we don’t start taking action, the rising tides will wash away those favorite reading places. This book shows us how to fight back.