In a crisis, leaders step up—and not always in the expected ways. As the U.S. scrambles to contain the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump has been heavily criticized for his lack of preparation and misleading messaging, while the immunologist Anthony Fauci has become an unlikely celebrity. Meanwhile, volunteers around the world have mobilized to keep their neighbors safe, fed, and healthy. In this tumultuous time, reading about historical feats of leadership can be a source of perspective and comfort, as well as inspiration.
The author Fergus M. Bordewich’s new history of the Civil War focuses on the radical Republican legislators who guided ambitious policies through Congress while the nation was in turmoil. The historian Eric Rauchway homes in on the transition between the Hoover and Roosevelt presidencies, showing how Roosevelt responded to the uncertainties of the Great Depression.
Vanessa Siddle Walker’s study of school desegregation reveals the work of black educators who had to keep their activism secret to protect their jobs. Anne Firor Scott examines the women’s organizations that supported the everyday functions of communities and protected their most vulnerable members throughout the 19th century. And Sherwin B. Nuland’s “biography of medicine” chronicles the accomplishments of pioneering physicians—such as the development of the personal protective equipment that’s so essential today.
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The bitter origins of the fight over big government
“Rauchway … argues that in the conflict between the lame-duck Hoover and the incoming Roosevelt, we can already see the tension between the New Deal and the opposition to it that would structure American politics for much of the rest of the 20th century.”