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Agents of Change – The New York Times

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On this week’s podcast, the historian Kerri Greenidge talks about two new books she reviewed that help to reframe the role of African-Americans in the years of resistance that led to the Civil War: “South to Freedom,” by Alice L. Baumgartner, and “The Kidnapping Club,” by Jonathan Daniel Wells.

“The beauty and the contribution” of these books, Greenidge says, is that they take the focus “away from the North being a place of freedom” and the idea “that slavery ended because good people in the North — good white people in the North — knew that slavery was wrong and fought against it and that that’s how slavery ended. What these two books argue is that there’s a complicity in this relationship between the North and the South and enslavement. There’s a vested interest by the most populated city in the country — New York City — in maintaining enslavement. And that really slavery begins to collapse, it’s challenged, it’s pushed by African-American people themselves.”

Neal Gabler visits the podcast to discuss “Catching the Wind,” the first volume of his biography of Edward Kennedy. He discusses, among other subjects, why he would choose to write about someone about whom so much has been written.

“I would never write a book where I felt — and this is not an insult to any other writer who’s written about Kennedy, not by any means,” Gabler says, “but if I felt that any previous biographer had done what I intended to do with this book, I wouldn’t have written the book. I’m not that egocentric that I think, ‘Well, I’m going to be better than everybody else.’ I approached this book as a biography of Edward Kennedy, but also, equally, a biography of American liberalism.”

Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to books@nytimes.com.

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