History & Society History & Society: news, interviews and reviews from NPR Books

History & Society

Heirs of the Founders

The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants

by H. W. Brands

Hardcover, 413 pages

"From New York Times bestselling historian H. W. Brands comes the riveting story of how America's second generation of political giants—Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun—battled to complete the unfinished work of the Founding Fathers and decide the shape of our democracy. In the early days of the nineteenth century, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina's John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery. Together this second generation of American founders took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency, and tasked themselves with finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Above all, they sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its fudge on where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation; and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery. They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the union as a free state, "the three great men of America" had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But by then they were never further apart. Thrillingly and authoritatively, H. W. Brands narrates the little-known drama of the dangerous early years of our democracy"—

Let the People See

The Story of Emmett Till

by Elliott Gorn

Hardcover, 360 pages

"Everyone knows the story of the murder of young Emmett Till. In August 1955, the fourteen-year-old Chicago boy was murdered in Mississippi for having—supposedly—flirted with a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, who was working behind the counter of a store. Emmett was taken from the home of a relative later that night by white men; three days later, his naked body was recovered in the Tallahatchie River, weighed down by a cotton-gin fan. Till's killers were acquitted, but details of what had happened to him became public; the story gripped the country and sparked outrage.It continues to turn. The murder has been the subject of books and documentaries, rising and falling in number with anniversaries and tie-ins, and shows no sign of letting up. The Tillmurder continues to haunt the American conscience. Fifty years later, in 2005, the FBI reopened the case. New papers and testimony have come to light, and several participants, including Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, have published autobiographies. Using this new evidence and a broadened historical context, Elliott Gorn delves into facets of the case never before studied and considers how and why the story of Emmett Till still resonates, and likely always will. Even as it marked a turning point, Gornshows, hauntingly, it reveals how old patterns of thought and behavior linger in new faces, and how deeply embedded racism in America remains. Gorn does full justice to both Emmett and the Till Case—the boy and the symbol—and shows how and why their intersection illuminates a number of crossroads: of north and south, black and white, city and country, industrialization and agriculture, rich and poor, childhood and adulthood."—Provided by publisher.