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Four Great Books About 20th Century America

We Are Not Afraid by Seth Cagin and Philip Dray (Scribner). A riveting, thoroughly researched account of the infamous 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi and its aftermath, this book reads like a great crime novel. Hopefully, the recent trial of Edgar Ray Killen will lead to it being more widely available again.

The World Split Open by Ruth Rosen (Penguin). The stirring story of the deep changes elicited by the modern American women's movement, Rosen's book looks at how, in what was essentially a 10-year period, women grabbed their freedom from a male-dominated system that was keeping it from them. The thousands of women's discussion groups that flourished then, the changes in popular culture and law, and the individual liberation stories of many women are all related in a fast-paced narrative that casts a light on why we live the way we do today.

They Marched At Dawn by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster). Pulitzer winner Maraniss masterfully interweaves two events in October, 1967: the Black Lions army battalion engaging in a fierce battle at Long Nguyen in Vietnam, and student protests at the University of Wisconsin attempting to stop Dow Chemical (the makers of napalm) from recruiting on campus. A masterpiece that puts the reader in the middle of that turbulent era.

And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts (St. Martin's Press). This is one of the finest works of non-fiction ever published. Shilts, a gay San Francisco Chronicle reporter, relates the myriad developments during the first five years of the AIDS epidemic by cross-cutting among activists, doctors and researchers, gay club owners, and politicians. The term "reads like a novel" could have been invented for this book.

John Grooms

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