Eliza Griswold’s riveting look at the effects of fracking, Amity and Prosperity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), is by turns a social history of mineral extraction, a close profile of a handful of citizens, myriad medical mysteries, and a legal thriller. The focus is a Pennsylvania town called Amity. Economically depressed, it saw natural gas as its salvation—much as the neighboring town, the ghostly Prosperity, once looked to coal. And though fracking did bring in money, like coal it also brought a host of problems, including illness, animal deaths, water contamination, and damaged infrastructure due to the dramatic increase in truck traffic. For Stacey Haney, a nurse and single mother of two who owned a farm near a major waste-water containment site, it was impossible to look away. Though she’d thought it was her “patriotic duty” to lease her land to a gas company, when her son became chronically ill , she spoke up, eventually filing suit against Range Resources. While a courageous pair of local lawyers devoted years to building the case—and foregoing payment—Griswold talked to a wide range of Amity citizens. She presents their views on government and corporate power, tells us their dreams and how fracking furthered or broke them, and shows how arguments about the greater good of the nation can ride roughshod over the basic rights of citizens, especially citizens who lack the means to fight back.
Zora Neale Hurston’s first book was written in 1931 but wasn’t published until 2018. Not yet a fiction writer, Hurston wrote Barracoon (Amistad, $24.99) as a budding cultural anthropologist hoping to add a much needed chapter to the historical record on slavery, which still contains little from the point of view of the enslaved. She spent several months in Alabama meeting with eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis (c. 1841-1935), the last living African survivor of the Middle Passage. Prompted by Hurston to recount his memories of slavery, Cudjo, or as he preferred to be called, Kossola, his original name, assumed the role of the griot and delivered an extraordinary series of stories. Starting with his early life, Kossola, the second son of a second wife, cataloged the traditional African ways he grew up with, and that he missed to his dying day. He then delivered a harrowing account of being captured at age nineteen by members of a rival African kingdom and sold with some one hundred fellow villagers to Americans who illegally smuggled them to the U.S. where they were sold again—into slavery. Hurston wisely lets Kossola tell his own story, and she brilliantly conveys the lilt and cadences of his patois. His voice is mesmerizing, and the terrible grief and loneliness he suffered is at times nearly unbearable.
Journalist Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (Simon & Schuster, $27), is part history, part social commentary, and part polemic, a brilliantly woven analysis of how and why female fury has shaped American social movements and politics over the past two years—and past two centuries. Traister is especially masterful in explaining how a minority (white men) have consistently succeeded in subjugating a majority (women) by dividing women along racial lines and co-opting white women (53 percent of whom voted for Trump) into supporting the norms and institutions of the white patriarchy. She gives credit long overdue to African-American feminists and activists whose efforts have so often been overlooked by white feminists and progressives. Through it all, Traister remains hopeful. The eruption of women’s anger after the 2016 election, she argues, was a good sign. Women are increasingly willing to acknowledge and embrace their anger, she says, and their collective rage could prove a potent weapon against Trump and his crude attempts to stymie women’s progress and protect the white patriarchy at the expense of everyone else.