Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury

Former Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust had previously written a beautiful book on the first photographs that came from the killing fields of the Civil War. These photos captured the deep destruction of death that changed the national attitude about dying on American soil. Faust has now turned her pen to her own family’s history of living in the South and her coming of age as a Baby Boomer who challenged her upbringing and Southern social norms during the Civil Rights movement.

Faust allows the reader to pull back the covers of her life when she realized she was living in a racially contradictory context in Virginia. Faust admitted, “I grew up in a constant company of Black people, human beings central to my life, yet I somehow came to understand that an unspoken hierarchy required our distance—both physical and emotional—from them. We had—and came to assume we deserved—a better house, better education, a better future.” Faust gives the reader a tour of Confederacy that had not changed despite a war fought in the 19th century. Faust was cut from a different cloth than her unfeeling mother and struggling father, and her curiosity and determination to be more than a “proper Southern lady” is an engaging theme. Before becoming a best-selling author and sought-after history professor, Faust left college for the front lines of the Civil Rights movement and, she admitted, changed for the better. Her memoir comes from the mind of a historian who truly believes that “history is about choices and about how individuals make those choices within the structures and circumstances in which they find themselves.” Faust gives the reader a feeling of walking in her shoes during ordinary and extraordinary times. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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