American Stories: Nonfiction
This wide-ranging collection offers insight on a multitude of quintessentially American matters, from the struggle for civil rights to the inner workings of Hollywood. The Stammering Century takes us back to the 1800s, chronicling not the major events but the eccentricities and fringe religious beliefs of the age. Gilbert Seldes—who himself grew up in an anarchist utopian community—traces the histories of reformism, anticapitalism, and cultism that reverberate into our present. First published in 1967, Harold Cruse’s controversial The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual explores the legacy of Black intellectual life and political organization from the Harlem Renaissance on, and ultimately advocates for a form of Black separatism. His exhilarating critique takes no prisoners, eviscerating everyone from Langston Hughes to Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin. Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer’s The Farm in the Green Mountains, meanwhile, is a moving memoir of American integration: after fleeing Nazi Germany, the Zuckmayer family found their true home in the woods of Vermont. The book is a touching portrait of refugee life as well as the natural beauty of New England.
One of the best books ever written about the American motion-picture industry, Lillian Ross’s Picture is a classic work of reportage that traces the making—and horrific botching in post-production—of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage. With a foreword by Huston’s daughter Anjelica, it’s an unparalleled look into the failures of commercialism. Another dive into Southern California excess, Slow Days, Fast Company offers ten sketches of movie stars, socialites, and soap opera stars by Eve Babitz, poet laureate of L.A. And if you’ve ever wondered at the curious names scattered across the American map, George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land is chock-full of their fascinating origin stories. “Few authors or books are more American,” wrote the Wall Street Journal, “in every good sense of that word.”