ARB Recommends: From the Basic Books Fall 2020 Catalog

ARB Recommends is a regular column of ARB that covers seasonal catalogs from indie, trade, and academic publishers, highlighting the kinds of books our editors, contributors, and readers want to read. As a publication devoted to radical critical engagement with the world—and devoted to reviewing books and media that do this—it only makes sense for ARB to support publishers by showcasing the work they and their authors do.

AB Recommends also serves as a “what to review” guide for those interested in contributing to ARB. If you have an interest in reviewing any of the below titles or any other books recommended by ARB, please reach out to us to review it!


This entry of ARB Recommends takes a look at the Basic Books catalog for Fall 2020.

Basic Books, founded in 1950 as a psychoanalytic book club and now a division of Hachette Book Group, is a nonfiction publisher with an emphasis on scholarly contributions usually written by academics, though with a broad appeal to non-academic readers. In recent years, Basic Books has published a number of high-profile nonfiction texts in social history and social justice, and acquired feminist publisher Seal Press in 2018.

The full Basic Books fall 2020 catalog can be downloaded here. The books below emphasize trade history and cultural studies. Click the book images for links to buy.


Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

Martha S. Jones
Sep. 2020 / $30 / 352 pp.

“Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women […] who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.”

Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream

Jamie K. McCallum
Sep. 2020 / $28 / 272 pp.

“Most Americans work too long and too hard, while others lack consistency in their hours and schedules. Work hours declined for a century through hard-fought labor-movement victories, but they’ve increased significantly since the seventies. Worked Over traces the varied reasons why our lives became tethered to a new rhythm of work, and describes how we might gain a greater say over our labor time — and build a more just society in the process.”

South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Alice L. Baumgartner
Nov. 2020 / $32 / 384 pp.

“Historian Alice L. Baumgartner tells the story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in the United States. Southerners hoped that annexing Texas and invading Mexico in the 1840s would stop runaways and secure slavery’s future. Instead, the seizure of Alta California and Nuevo México upset the delicate political balance between free and slave states. This is a revelatory and essential new perspective on antebellum America and the causes of the Civil War.”

White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History

Jane Dailey
Nov. 2020 / $30 / 368 pp.

“In White Fright, historian Jane Dailey upends our understanding of the long struggle for African American rights. Those fighting against equality were not exclusively motivated by a sense of innate superiority, as is often supposed, but also by an intense preoccupation with the question of interracial sex and marriage. […] Placing sex at the center of civil rights history, White Fright offers a bold new take on one of the most confounding threads running through American history.”

A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement

Ernest Freeberg
Sep. 2020 / $30 / 336 pp.

A Traitor to His Species is revelatory social history, awash with colorful characters. Cheered on by thousands of men and women who joined his cause, Bergh fought with robber barons, Five Points gangs, and legendary impresario P.T. Barnum, as they pushed for new laws to protect trolley horses, livestock, stray dogs, and other animals. Raucous and entertaining, A Traitor to His Species tells the story of a remarkable man who gave voice to the voiceless and shaped our modern relationship with animals.”

The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World

Virginia Postrel
Nov. 2020 / $30 / 320 pp.

“In The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel synthesizes groundbreaking research from archaeology, economics, and science to reveal a surprising history. From Minoans exporting wool colored with precious purple dye to Egypt, to Romans arrayed in costly Chinese silk, the cloth trade paved the crossroads of the ancient world. Textiles funded the Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; they gave us banks and bookkeeping, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. The cloth business spread the alphabet and arithmetic, propelled chemical research, and taught people to think in binary code.”

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Robots: The Future of Human-Robot Collaboration

Laura Major and Julie Shah
Oct. 2020 / $30 / 304 pp.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Robots offers a vision for how robots can survive in the real world and how they will change our relationship to technology. From teaching them manners, to robot-proofing public spaces, to planning for their mistakes, this book answers every question you didn’t know you needed to ask about the robots on the way.”

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