Eve Gerber

Interviews by Eve Gerber

The best books on New York History, recommended by Louise Mirrer

Like several of the great cities of the world, New York’s openness to people born elsewhere and relative tolerance lay at the foundation of its success, though darker episodes in the city’s 400-year history also need attention. Historian Louise Mirrer, President of the New-York Historical Society, recommends books that are essential to understanding the essence of the Big Apple.

The Great American Novel, recommended by Lawrence Buell

Albeit an object of satire and overreach, the ‘Great American Novel’ remains a vital concept in American literature, encouraging writers to capture the essence of national culture and history, argues Lawrence Buell, Professor of American Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. He talks us through the origins of the phrase and nominates five novels as contenders.

The best books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, recommended by Cynthia Koch

Historians consistently rank FDR, the 32nd and longest-serving president of the United States, as among America’s greatest. Here, Cynthia Koch, Director of History Programing for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, talks us through his life and explains how, in many ways, his guile was key to his success.

The best books on Richard Nixon, recommended by David Greenberg

American president Richard Nixon will be forever remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his resignation in 1974, a blow for a man obsessed with his image who hoped to be remembered as a peacemaker on the global stage. Here historian David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers, recommends books on a man who elicited very strong emotions, both for and against.

The Best South Asian American Novels, recommended by Wajahat Ali

South Asian Americans are too often treated as sidekicks or even suspects in national narratives. Wajahat Ali recommends five fantastic novels by South Asian American authors, and makes a compelling case that for the United States to succeed as a multi-racial democracy, “it is key that people pick up the pen to tell America’s full story.

The best books on American Naval History, recommended by John Kroger

The story of the American navy is deeply intertwined with that of the nation, says John Kroger—former Chief Learning Officer to the US Navy—although we don’t always afford naval history the attention it deserves. Here he selects five of the best books about American naval history and predicts a renewed focus on Pacific naval defenses in the coming decades.

The best books on Sex and Teenagers, recommended by Jennifer Hirsch

We have a responsibility to educate our teenagers about sex and intimacy, says Jennifer Hirsch—Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University and the co-author of a new book on campus sexual assault. Here she recommends five books that offer parents and teens guidance on how to approach an often fraught topic.

The best books on The US Cabinet, recommended by Lindsay Chervinsky

In contrast to many other countries, the secretaries who serve in the United States cabinet aren’t chosen from among the country’s elected officials but entirely reflect the president’s personal choices. Here, presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, talks us through the role of the cabinet and recommends which books to read to understand more about it.

The Best Philip Roth Books, recommended by Ira Nadel

Philip Roth was one of the great contemporary American novelists. He wrote about what he saw when he looked in the mirror, even when he didn’t like it, and claimed his only real interest was writing about what made him feel uncomfortable. Roth’s literary biographer, Ira Nadel, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, talks us through Philip Roth’s novels and explains why they’re worth reading.

The Best Politics Books To Read in 2021, recommended by Larry Sabato

In many Western countries, citizens have long taken living in a democracy for granted. The last decade has changed all that, with fledgling democracies veering back to authoritarianism and even the most stable democracies being shaken by populist movements. Here, political scientist Larry J. Sabato turns the spotlight on the American republic, long a beacon for democracy around the globe, but now suffering its own internal turmoil. He recommends the best politics books to read in 2021, focusing on the United States.

The Best Books for Hanukkah, recommended by Dara Horn

Hanukkah means ‘a dedication’ and the celebration of the Jewish holiday towards the end of every year commemorates the success of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire and the re-consecration of the Temple of Jerusalem in the second century BCE. Here, award-winning novelist Dara Horn recommends books that speak to the powerful themes of Hanukkah and explains why Jewish people are encouraged to light menorahs publicly around the world.

Talismanic Tomes, recommended by Maria Tatar

The stories we read as children and as adults really do change us and how we see the world around us. Here Maria Tatar, Emerita Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, speaks about the power of five ‘talismanic tomes’ that had a meaningful influence on her life.

Best History of Medicine Books, recommended by Keith Wailoo

The history of medicine is not just the story of life-saving discoveries, it’s also about how medical advances interact with the society from which they emerge. Here Professor Keith Wailoo, a historian of medicine and public health at Princeton University, recommends books that shed light on the social history of medicine, especially in the United States.

Best Books on the History of the American South, recommended by Edward Ayers

To understand the America of today, you must understand the American South of the past, says historian Edward Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Here, he recommends five books to get started with, and also explains what his own books were aiming to contribute to the field of Southern history.

The best books on Thomas Jefferson, recommended by Andrew Burstein

Thomas Jefferson is famous for having written the Declaration of Independence, with its ringing claim that “all men are created equal”.  In modern times he has been castigated for hypocrisy, given his ownership of slaves and his failure to campaign for abolition. Here, historian Andrew Burstein discusses Jefferson’s wider political career and whether it is fair to judge his attitude to slavery by contemporary standards.

The best books on Patriarchy, recommended by Mona Eltahawy

If you looked up patriarchy in a dictionary, the definition probably wouldn’t correspond with what most feminists and activists mean by it today. Here, Mona Eltahawy—journalist, activist and author of The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls—explains what it’s all about, why its tentacles are everywhere, and what to read to understand more about it.

The best books on Asian American History, recommended by Melissa Borja

Anti-Asian incidents in America are bringing overdue attention to the history of Asian Americans. University of Michigan Professor Melissa Borja recommends five books that illuminate the understudied history of Asian Americans, explain the connection to empire and shine a spotlight on this “coalitional identity.”

The best books on American Film, recommended by Mark Harris

Five fantastic books on American film, selected by Mark Harris, bestselling author of Mike Nichols: A Life, who explains how “movies can reflect what’s going on in American society—sometimes anticipate it, sometimes fall behind it, sometimes lead it, and sometimes change it.”

The best books on The Gilded Age, recommended by Richard White

America’s Gilded Age, roughly from the end of the Civil War to the First World War, saw the United States go from being a rural, agricultural society to an urban and industrial one. National wealth soared and disparities between rich and poor exploded. Here, historian Richard White talks about how the Gilded Age transformed America and picks out some parallels with our own age that are not hard to see.

The Best Native American Literature, recommended by Megan Tusler

“There’s a lot more diversity within Native American literature than many imagine,” according to Megan Tusler. The University of Chicago academic and cohost of the Better Read than Dead podcast recommends five fantastic novels which avoid “the authenticity shuffle” and demonstrate the range of literary production by American Indians.

The best books on Domestic Violence, recommended by Tanya Selvaratnam

Domestic violence has been declared a global crisis of pandemic proportions by the World Health Organisation. So why is it so often overlooked by law enforcement and under-reported by those who it affects? Tanya Selvaratnam, author of Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence, suggests a route forward as she highlights five of the best books on domestic abuse.

The Best Apocalyptic Fiction, recommended by Elliot Ackerman

“Imagination is a national security imperative,” according to acclaimed novelist, journalist and decorated US Marine Elliot Ackerman. He’s written a novel with retired Admiral Jim Stavridis, about what would happen if the US went to war with China. Here, he talks us through his favourite books of apocalyptic fiction—and the truths they reveal about war, humanity, and literature.

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books, recommended by Shawn Rosenheim

You can’t turn on a television or pass an airport bookstore without seeing the influence of America’s most generative writer, Edgar Allan Poe. He orginated true life crime and detective fiction, sci-fi and horror story tropes, and wrote unforgettable poems. Poe expert Shawn Rosenheim, a professor at Williams College, recommends where to start with Poe, as well as the best books about his influence.

The best books on African American Women’s History, recommended by Keisha N. Blain

Black women’s stories are often untold, but their critical role in American society and politics is finally being broadly acknowledged. Black activists today are building upon the legacy of African American women who have been using every open avenue to seek social justice for centuries. And “no matter how many obstacles are erected to impede them,” says award-winning historian Keisha N. Blain, Black women “are unstoppable.”

The best books on Abraham Lincoln, recommended by Ted Widmer

He came from humble beginnings and never went to high school. Going into the presidency, he had limited political experience and lacked business, legislative and military achievements. The one thing he did not lack was a moral compass, says historian and author Ted Widmer. He picks the best books on the ups and downs and Shakespearean-style plot twists that were the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

The best books on Migrant Workers, recommended by Mireya Loza

American society and American history marginalized migrant workers for too long. New scholarship shows that migrant workers were central to America’s cultural and economic development. Mireya Loza, a historian at Georgetown University and author of Defiant Braceros, talks us through the best books about migrant workers—and why their stories are integral to understanding the past and present of United States.  

The best books on JFK, recommended by Fredrik Logevall

Of the thousands of books written about JFK, America’s iconic 35th president, which ones should you read first? Fredrik Logevall, professor of history and international affairs at Harvard University, talks us through five key books, starting with the first volume of his biography, tracking JFK’s coming of age in the years that also saw America transforming from economic powerhouse to global superpower.

The Best Politics Books of 2020, recommended by Yascha Mounk

Despite the challenge of authoritarian populism and a new divisiveness in political debate in many countries around the world there are reasons for optimism, argues political scientist Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy. He talks us through his selection of the best politics books of 2020.

The best books on Veterans, recommended by Phil Klay

While many of us in the West commemorate the contribution of war veterans and the soldiers who lost their lives on our behalf, there’s also a tendency to see war as something distant and unconnected with our daily lives. Here Phil Klay, veteran of the US Marine Corps and award-winning novelist, recommends books that help bridge that gap—and capture the complicated relationship between soldiers and the societies on whose behalf they fight.

Comfort Reads, recommended by Neil Gaiman

In his latest book, fans from around the world chose which of Neil Gaiman’s writings they liked the best, a great introduction to his writing for anyone not familiar with his work. Here the prolific, genre-bending author recommends some of his own favourite books: comfort reads to turn to in difficult times.

The best books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recommended by Amanda Tyler

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933—2020) spent her life working tirelessly for a more just society, says Amanda Tyler, Shannon C. Turner Professor of Law at Berkeley and former law clerk to the Supreme Court Justice. She recommends the best books to read about RBG: her life, her work, and even her personal training regime.

The best books on The Supreme Court of the United States, recommended by Michael Klarman

It may be nice to think of America’s Supreme Court justices as neutral interpreters of the law, but the reality is that they are a reflection of the cultural and historical moment in which they operate. Legal scholar and author Michael Klarman, Kirkland & Ellis Professor at Harvard Law School, recommends the best books to learn more about the Supreme Court of the United States and its history.

The best books on The First Amendment, recommended by Suzanne Nossel

Frequently appealed to, less frequently understood, and by no means a free pass to say or write whatever you feel like: Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, the nonprofit dedicated to free expression, talks us through the best books to better understand America's venerated First Amendment.

The best books on National Security, recommended by Juliette Kayyem

National security isn’t just about foreign policy and counterterrorism, but has a broad set of concerns—including climate change, national disasters and pandemics. Juliette Kayyem, Senior Lecturer in International Security at Harvard and author of Security Mom, recommends books to get us all thinking about national security and the challenges we face.

The Best Antiracist Books for Kids, recommended by Paula Young Shelton

Understanding the African American experience is not just about learning about suffering, it’s also about celebrating a vibrant culture and its roots across the millennia. Paula Young Shelton, author of Child of the Civil Rights Movement, recommends the best antiracist books for kids.

The Best Books on the American Civil War, recommended by Drew Gilpin Faust

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner. Here, Drew Gilpin Faust, a leading historian of the American Civil War and former President of Harvard, recommends the best books to read about the conflict between North and South that tore the United States apart from 1861 till 1865 – and beyond.

The Best Books for Juneteenth, recommended by Barbara Krauthamer

June 19th, or ‘Juneteenth,’ is a holiday commemorating the final end of slavery in the United States. Professor Barbara Krauthamer, a leading historian of African American slavery and emancipation, talks us through its significance down the decades and which books to read to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.

The best books on The Cold War, recommended by Archie Brown

American military and economic superiority cannot explain why the Cold War came to an end in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the historian Archie Brown, you need to accept the primacy of politics and human agency both in the USSR and the West. He chooses five books to understand the Cold War and offers some broader reflections on the qualities of good political leadership—then and now.

The best books on Joe Biden, recommended by Ronald A. Klain

On January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States. Here Ronald A. Klain, the veteran lawyer who is once again serving as Biden’s chief of staff, recommends books that show the man behind the public persona including his love of Irish poetry, the string of terrible personal tragedies that have affected his life and career, and his leading role in blocking a Supreme Court appointment that would’ve decimated abortion rights.

The best books on Behavioral Science, recommended by Nicholas Epley

What can we draw from behavioral science to help us better understand each other? Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioral Science and Faculty Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, recommends the five best books for learning about an interdisciplinary field that draws from psychology, sociology, economics and anthropology.

The best books on The Silk Road, recommended by Valerie Hansen

From the Han dynasty to the time of Marco Polo, the routes connecting Asia, Africa and Europe—now known as the Silk Road—were responsible for enormous amounts of global trade. Yale historian Valerie Hansen, author of The Silk Road: A New History, introduces us to its rich history: “one of the reasons the Silk Road is a misnomer is that silk was not the main good moving along.”

The best books on Pandemics, recommended by Christian W. McMillen

With coronavirus causing widespread panic, we would do well to educate ourselves about the history of pandemics and disease. University of Virginia historian and associate dean Christian W. McMillen, author of Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction, recommends the best introductions to the subject.

The best books on Food Studies, recommended by Matt Garcia

Matt Garcia, Professor of Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies & History at Dartmouth College, discusses the production of primary foods in the United States and globally—a field that has often been ignored by historians and by society. He recommends five books to learn more about food studies, with particular attention to agricultural workers, often among the most marginalized and least protected members of the US labor force.

The Best Books on Gratitude for Kids, recommended by Dana Sheridan

What should you read with your kids on Thanksgiving? Dana Sheridan of Princeton University Library’s Cotsen Children’s Library recommends five children’s books with themes of love, gratitude, belonging and sharing with one another—what the holiday is all about.

The best books on Impeachment, recommended by Michael J. Gerhardt

In the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings, only one legal scholar was called as a joint witness: Michael J. Gerhardt, now a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a prolific expert on subjects of constitutional history, the legislative process, and impeachment. With the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump well underway, he recommends five books crucial to understanding the subject.

The Best Political Books of 2019, recommended by John Harwood

With the 2020 presidential race underway and a possible impeachment of President Trump on the horizon, 2019 has been an action-packed year so far in American politics. Here to discuss five new political books that break down how we got to where we are is CNBC editor-at-large John Harwood, whose razor-sharp analysis has put him at the forefront of our television screens and the nation’s political discourse.

The best books on The Kurds, recommended by Peter W. Galbraith

The Kurds lost 11,000 lives fighting Islamic State and hoped the West would support them in their quest for nationhood. But as the Kurdish saying goes, ‘The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ Author and diplomat Peter W. Galbraith, a longtime advocate of the Kurdish people, recommends the best books on the Kurds—and predicts that one day there will be an independent Kurdistan.

The best books on White Supremacy, recommended by Kathleen Belew

Defined by University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew, white supremacy is a “broad system of laws, norms and customs that create a society with unequal opportunities for people based on race”. It persists to this day, and has surprising intersections with issues of labor and women’s reproduction. Here, she recommends books for coming to grips with the history of this complex topic.