Reviews for Necessary Trouble

by Drew Gilpin Faust

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A distinguished historian remembers coming-of-age in the 1950s and ’60s. Faust, a Bancroft and Francis Parkman Prize winner and former president of Harvard, examines her personal history in a memoir set between her 1947 birth and her 1968 graduation from Bryn Mawr. In the early chapters, the author resurrects the Virginia of her White, privileged childhood, touching on her father’s racehorse business and emotional coldness; her mother’s desire that she grow up a meek and passive “lady” (“I was not meant to become a woman, for that category carried dangerously sexual and sensual implications”); her brother’s backyard Civil War reenactments (he made her play Grant to his Lee); the family’s unspoken belief that they deserved every advantage they had; and their staff of Black cleaners and cooks who used the back door and ate in the kitchen. In the rest of the book, Faust chronicles her flight from the racial and gendered assumptions of her upbringing. She wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower in favor of desegregation, skipped midterms to participate in civil rights protests, endured an assault by a National Guard member in Alabama, rallied against the war in Vietnam, and organized her college classmates against sexist double standards. The author is at her best when she immerses readers in a young person’s experience of the era’s moral urgency and passion, illuminating how “coming of age as a thinking and feeling person in those years [was] like walking on the edge of a precipice.” It was an era whose specific clashes “fewer and fewer living humans can remember” and whose “strangeness…can perhaps encourage us that at least some things have changed for the better in my lifetime.” And yet, writes Faust, “when we see many of those advances challenged or even overturned, it can remind us why we don’t want to live in such a world again.” An inviting, absorbing look at a privileged childhood in the segregated South and the birth of a questioning spirit. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.