On Nov. 19, The New York Times released its annual list of 100 Notable Books, which includes titles spanning fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Of the 100 authors listed, nine are Yale-affiliated, eight are Yale alumni and two are professors. The authors include Joseph Ellis GRD ’69, Victoria Johnson ’91, Jonathan Haidt ’85, history and American studies professor Joanne Freeman, Imani Perry ’94, ecology and evolutionary biology professor Carl Zimmer ’87, David Quammen ’70, Casey Gerald ’09 and Jill Lepore GRD ’95.
All nine books listed are works of nonfiction. Four concern American history, two are science books about genetics, one explores sociology, one is a biography and the last is a memoir. Johnson’s debut, “American Eden,” is one of the four works addressing American history.
“I’ve been touched by the positive reception from critics and readers of ‘American Eden’ since its publication this past summer, and this is a lovely way to end 2018,” Johnson told the News.
Johnson, who studied philosophy at Yale, said that she wrote “American Eden” after she “became obsessed with the man at the center of it” — David Hosack, who opened America’s first public botanical garden. Hosack also served as the family physician to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr — a position that allowed him to attend the infamous 1804 Hamilton-Burr duel.
Some of Johnson’s research for “American Eden” included works by Freeman, whose NYT-featured book is “Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War.” This book uses the diaries of Benjamin Brown French — the clerk of the United States House of Representatives from 1845–47 — to address how physical violence in the chambers of the House and Senate shaped the nation during the antebellum period.
“When you spend years exploring and analyzing the feelings of a historical character, you get to know them in a way,” Freeman said. “In the case of French, I ultimately spent so much time with him for so long that I found myself missing him long after I finished the book.”
The other two books that explore American history are Ellis’ “American Dialogue: The Founders and Us” and Lepore’s “These Truths: A History of the United States.”
Ellis’ book draws from text by several Constitution framers, including Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington, to inform modern arguments about race, economic inequality, jurisprudence and foreign policy.
Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and a staff writer for the New Yorker, took on the daunting task of writing a comprehensive history of the United States. Lepore’s inclusion of women and minorities in a history that often discards them makes her account unique.
Both authors who were recognized for their science literature, Quammen and Zimmer, were English majors at Yale. Quammen’s book “A Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life” details the history of molecular phylogenetics — the branch of evolutionary history that analyzes hereditary genetic differences through DNA sequences — through the biographical stories of the field’s scientists, including little-known microbiologist Carl Woese GRD ’53.
“Part of the enterprise of my book was to gather accounts of this peculiar, cranky man from the people who knew him,” Quammen said. “[I was] trying to piece those together in order to understand who he really was and what his life’s work meant.”
Zimmer authors a weekly NYT column titled “Matter.” His book, “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity” has also been selected for Publisher’s Weekly’s “Best 10 Books of 2018,” Amazon’s “Best Science Books of 2018” and is on the 2018 shortlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction.
Haidt, like Johnson, studied philosophy during his years at Yale. Haidt claimed his place on the 100 Notable Books list with “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” which explores a culture of “safetyism” he identifies on college campuses.
Perry’s biography, “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant Life of Lorraine Hansberry,” recounts the life of the first black female playwright to be featured on Broadway.
And Gerald’s memoir, “There Will Be No Miracles Here,” discusses his childhood and time at the University. Gerald is the co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America, a program that sends business students on road trips to help small startups and entrepreneurs gain traction.
During his time at Yale, Gerald co-founded the Yale Black Men’s Union.
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org