True Story

Rebel Sisters, Race Science, and Space Records

Happy Wednesday, fellow nonfiction nerds! I’ve been experimenting with this radical new idea of not watching as much television so I can read more, and it’s going positively swimmingly. I’ve finished a couple books in the last week, and it’s really reinvigorated my reading mojo. Which is good, because there are always more new books to check out. Let’s dive in to take a look and what’s new this week!

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In 1978, Harper Lee’s fame had reached a fever pitch following the remarkable success of her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, but she had written little of consequence in the nearly two decades since. She was searching for her next book when the perfect story landed in her lap. A call from back home in Alabama lit the match: A reverend — described as “six-feet-four-inches of majesty and dread” —  allegedly murdered five of his family members, without detection. Each time, he got rich off their life insurance policies but reaped no consequences.

Vanity Fair’s special correspondent, Mark Seal, retraces the legendary novelist’s return home to Alabama to chase down a true crime mystery for the ages in THE DEVIL AND HARPER LEE.

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas – Why yes, I would love to read an academic look at how “the diversity crisis in children’s and young adult media is not only a lack of representation, but a lack of imagination” by looking carefully at four black girl protagonists from popular stories.

Further Reading: Thomas makes some excellent reading recommendations in this interview with School Library Journal.

Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall – It takes a lot to get me on board with a 600+ page biography, but this one sounds so interesting. This book follows the story of three female descendants (born between 1888 and 1897) of a slaveholding family, and how their paths diverged after two moved North and one stayed in the South.

Further Reading: Dowd was featured by the American Historical Association, where she talked a bit about the book.

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini – This book explores “the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences,” looking at how ideas from eugenics made their way into research into the human genome and how “science is retrofitted to accommodate race.” This seems like a great follow up to Saini’s 2017 book about what science has gotten wrong about women, Inferior.

Further Reading: Saini has an article in The Guardian about the book, perhaps an excerpt, although it’s not called out as one specifically.

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott – In 1977 a team was tasked with putting together a record to travel with NASA’s Voyager probe. This record was supposed to represent humanity and paint a picture of Earth for those who might find it. That’s a huge ask! This book puts together the story of that artifact, which sounds so fascinating.

Further Reading: Publisher’s Weekly included the book in a list of books for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing. Yay, space!

And finally, a few other titles that might be of interest for True Story readers:

That’s all for this week! You can find me on Twitter @kimthedork, on email at, and co-hosting the For Real podcast here at Book Riot. Happy reading! – Kim