The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


What We’re Reading [Spring 2016]


In celebration of National Library Week, we asked the Guys, past guests, and BackStory producers: what are you reading?


Brian Balogh, 20th Century History Guy and author of the forthcoming book, In the Nation’s Backyard: How History Preserved Rural Life in Green Springs, 1970 to the Present


Cover for "Factory Man" by Beth Macy

“The book I am listening to when I drive these days is Factory Man by Beth Macy. It is a compelling account of how Southern Virginia and North Carolina lured the furniture industry from the Midwest in the twentieth century, and how that business was lured from the mid-Atlantic by the Chinese. I am enjoying the way in which Macy takes a pressing current question – trade and its implications for labor– and traces the complicated historical root that led to where we are today.”



Jason Opal, Prof. of History at McGill University, and author of the forthcoming book, Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the Ordeal of American Nationhood, 1760s-1830s

Cover for "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate" by Naomi Klein“I’m reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), and I’m even more impressed than I thought I would be. I’m sympathetic to the argument that unregulated capitalism in general and fossil-fuel extraction is bad for the planet. But Klein is far too careful a scholar for simple answers or cheap polemics. She understands the irony and subtlety of popular movements and formal politics, and this makes for a difficult as well as a rewarding read.”

Emily Gadek, Associate Producer at BackStory

Cover for "River of Shadows" by Rebecca Solnit“I’m reading River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, by Rebecca Solnit. It’s the book that launched ‘mansplaining’ and an excellent account of Edward Muybridge, whose high speed photography experiments paved the way for modern video.”

Risa Goluboff, Prof. of Law, University of Virginia, and author of Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (2016)

Cover for "Blue at the Mizzen" by Patrick O'Brian“I am reading the final full book in the Aubrey/Maturin Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brien, Blue at the Mizzen. I have read all 19 books about a British naval captain, his surgeon/spy friend, and their seafaring adventures during the Napoleonic wars. And yes, I will be at a complete loss when I finish the series in the near future.”




Nina Earnest, Associate Producer at BackStory

Cover for "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie“I’m reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. The book’s main character, Saleem Sinai, is born at the moment of India’s independence. Through his narration, the novel follows events before and after the transfer of power.”

Ed Ayers, 19th Century History Guy and author of the forthcoming book, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and the End of Slavery in the Heart of America

Cover for "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara“I’m reading A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.  It’s a powerful novel about the power of memory, played out in the lives of four men in their years after college. It deals with hard themes and the effects—and lack of effects—of time.”





Kelly Hardcastle Jones, Associate Producer at BackStory

Cover for "The Futures" by Emily Lambert“I’m reading, The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World’s Biggest Markets, by Emily Lambert. The book charts the rich and dramatic history of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, which together comprised the original, most bustling futures market in the world.”




Andrew Parsons, Senior Producer at BackStory

Cover for "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman“I’m reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I have been interested in mythology since I was a kid and am a big fan of Neil Gaiman. He’s always done a great job of bringing life to old myths and the central theme of this novel — that they exist because we believe in them — has a lot of bearing on the way Americans look at history and the work we do at BackStory. ”





Peter Onuf, 18th Century History Guy and author of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (2016)

Cover for "The Inheritors" by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford“I’ve been reading the complete works of authors from Ed’s century (most recently Dostoevsky), but am just now inching into Brian’s time zone with the English novelist Ford Madox Ford.  I’m now into The Inheritors (1901), Ford’s first collaborative effort with Joseph Conrad.  Billed as a sort of science-fictional anticipation of a new world rumbling beneath the surface of a decadent old regime, it is in fact a wonderful period piece that evokes a world now long lost.”


Brigid McCarthy, Senior Producer at BackStory

H is for Hawk“I’m reading “H is for Hawk,” by Helen MacDonald. It’s actually more of a memoir. It’s about training hawks and dealing with grief.”

Media Contact:

Diana Williams
BackStory Digital Editor & Strategist
[email protected]


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