ARB Recommends: From the Knopf, Pantheon, Schocken 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. Like what you see here? Reach out to us to review it!


This entry of ARB Recommends takes a look at the Fall 2020 catalog for Penguin Random House’s imprints Knopf, Pantheon, and Schocken, which are leaders in both literary fiction and trade academic books like those selected here.

An important note: half of these book were originally listed to actually come out in fall 2020 (i.e. August through December, with occasional releases in January), but because of COVID, many publishers pushed their spring 2020 book releases to the fall, as a result bumping some fall 2020 books into spring 2021.

The full fall 2020 catalog for Knopf, Pantheon, and Schocken can be downloaded here. The books below emphasize trade history and cultural studies.



Transcendent Kingdom

Yaa Gyasi
September 2020 / $27.95 / 288 pp.

Yaa Gyasi’s stunning follow-up to her acclaimed national best seller Homegoing is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.

Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. 

Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.

On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake

Sarah Chayes
August 2020 / $28.95 / 432 pp.

From the prizewinning journalist, internationally recognized expert on corruption in government networks throughout the world, author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, a major, unflinching book that looks homeward to America, exploring the insidious, dangerous networks of corruption of our past, present, and precarious future.

Now, bringing to bear all of her knowledge, grasp, sense of history and observation, Sarah Chayes writes in her new bookthat the United States is showing signs similar to some of the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption, as Chayes sees it, is an operating system of sophisticated networks in which government officials, key private-sector interests, and out-and-out criminals interweave. Their main objective: not to serve the public but to maximize returns for network members.

From the titans of America’s Gilded Age (Carnegie, Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, et al.) to the collapse of the stock market in 1929, the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal; from Joe Kennedy’s years of banking, bootlegging, machine politics, and pursuit of infinite wealth, as well as the Kennedy presidency, to the deregulation of the Reagan Revolution, undermining the middle class and the unions; from the Clinton policies of political favors and personal enrichment to Trump’s hydra-headed network of corruption, systematically undoing the Constitution and our laws, Chayes shows how corrupt systems are organized, how they enforce the rules so their crimes are covered legally, how they are overlooked and downplayed–shrugged off with a roll of the eyes–by the richer and better educated, how they become an overt principle determining the shape of our government, affecting all levels of society.

Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation

Peter Cozzens
October 2020 / $35 / 560 pp.

The first biography of the great Shawnee leader in more than twenty years, and the first to make clear that his misunderstood younger brother, Tenskwatawa, was an equal partner in the last great pan-Indian alliance against the United States.

Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh’s life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But award-winning historian Peter Cozzens now shows us that while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader–admired by the same white Americans he opposed–it was Tenskwatawa, called the Shawnee Prophet, who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Detailed research of Native American society and customs provides a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways.

Cozzens brings us to the forefront of the chaos and violence that characterized the young American Republic, when settlers spilled across the Appalachians to bloody effect in their haste to exploit lands won from the British in the War of Independence, disregarding their rightful Indian owners. Tecumseh and the Prophet presents the untold story of the Shawnee brothers who retaliated against this threat–the two most significant siblings in Native American history, who, Cozzens helps us understand, should be writ large in the annals of America.

America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present

John Ghazvinian
January 2021 / $37.50 / 688 pp.

An important, urgently needed book–a hugely ambitious, illuminating portrait of the two-centuries-long entwined histories of Iran and America, and the first book to examine, in all its aspects, the rich and fraught relations between these two powers–once allies, now adversaries. By an admired historian and the author of Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil.

In this rich, fascinating history, John Ghazvinian traces the complex story of the relations of these two powers back to the Persian Empire of the eighteenth century–the subject of great admiration of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams–and an America seen by Iranians as an ideal to emulate for their own government.

Drawing on years of archival research both in the United States and Iran–including access to Iranian government archives rarely available to Western scholars–the Iranian-born, Oxford-educated historian leads us through the four seasons of U.S.-Iran relations: the spring of mutual fascination; the summer of early interactions; the autumn of close strategic ties; and the long, dark winter of mutual hatred.Ghazvinian, with grasp and a storyteller’s ability, makes clear where, how, and when it all went wrong. And shows why two countries that once had such heartfelt admiration for each other became such committed enemies; showing us, as well, how it didn’t have to turn out this way.

Confessions of the Flesh: The History of Sexuality, Volume 4

Michel Foucault
February 2021 / $32.50 / 416 pp.

The fourth and final volume in Michel Foucault’s acclaimed History of Sexuality, completed just before his death in 1984 and only recently brought to light.

One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Michel Foucault has made an indelible impact on Western thought. The first three volumes in his History of Sexuality–which traced cultural and intellectual notions of sexuality, arguing that it has been profoundly shaped by the power structures applied to it–constitute some of Foucault’s most important work. This fourth volume–which posits that the origins of totalitarian self-surveillance began with the Christian practice of confession–has long been secreted away, in accordance with Foucault’s stated wish that there be no posthumous publication of his work.

It was not until the sale of the Foucault archives in 2013, which made his unpublished work available to scholars, that his nephew felt that the time had come to finally publish Confessions of the Flesh. Readers will find it both sweeping and deeply personal, as Foucault–born into a French Catholic family–undoubtedly wrestled with these issues himself.

The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage

Sasha Issenberg
June 2021 / $40 / 928 pp.

It is a story that begins in Hawaii in 1990, when a rivalry among local activists triggered a sequence of events that forced the state to justify excluding gay couples from marriage. In the White House, one president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which elevated the matter to a national issue, and his successor tried to write it into the Constitution. Over 25 years, the debate played out across the country, from the first legal same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the epic face-off over California’s Proposition 8, and, finally, to the landmark Supreme Court decisions of United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. From churches to hedge funds, no corner of American life went untouched.

This richly detailed narrative follows the coast-to-coast conflict through courtrooms and war rooms, bedrooms and boardrooms, to shed light on every aspect of a political and legal controversy that divided Americans like no other. Following a cast of characters that includes those who sought their own right to wed, those who fought to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and those who changed their minds about it, The Engagement is certain to become a seminal book on the modern culture wars.

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