The Literary Hill

January 2018


Tell the Story
How could such a “ten-cent white man” pull off the murder of a “million-dollar black man?” wondered one of Martin Luther King’s associates. That’s the question that historian James L. Swanson’s addresses in his new book, “Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin.”

The New York Times bestselling author of “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killers” now turns his journalistic skills to the King assassination. His well-researched and thoroughly documented account follows the trajectories of the two men—the civil rights icon and his killer, James Earl Ray— in the days leading up to the murder, creating suspense even as he conveys a doomed sense of the inevitable.

While most readers will be familiar with the story, Swanson fills in fresh details, fleshing out the life of the courageous visionary and of the petty criminal who ended it. Told in clear, concise prose with enough historical background to allow young readers to follow along, the book traces the two trajectories that would end in tragedy in Memphis fifty years ago next April.

Complete with period documents and photographs, chronologies and an extensive bibliography, “Chasing King’s Killer” teaches an invaluable history lesson, especially for those who were not around to live it. As Congressman John Lewis states in his foreword, “This is a book that every young American should read.” But the book can also serve as a reminder to all of us, not only of the terrible loss America suffered, but also of how far we still have to go.

“James Swanson has told the story,” writes Congressman Lewis, “and now I say to you: Tell the story, tell the story, and tell it over and over again.” What better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination than to revisit—and learn from—the legacy of this towering civil rights leader who changed the course of history.

Swanson has also written the award-winning young adult books, “Chasing Lincoln’s Killer” and “The President Has Been Shot!: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” Follow him on Twitter @JamesLSwanson.

Historians Chris Myers Asch (left) and George Derek Musgrove analyze more than two centuries of race and democracy in DC.

City of Magnificent Intentions
Ever since Washington, DC, was carved out of two slave-owning states in the late 18th century, the city has been a cauldron of racial contradictions. Unable to shed the impact of slavery, DC nonetheless became an early haven for free blacks and ground zero for the abolitionist cause. Even in the first majority-black city in the US, though, the promise of full equality remains elusive.

In “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital,” historians Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove explore the ongoing struggle to secure rights not only for the capital city’s black citizens but for the disenfranchised of all races.

At nearly 500 pages, “Chocolate City” offers an exhaustively researched yet thoroughly accessible account of DC history. The authors provide a complete chronology, from DC’s earliest days through the Civil War and emancipation, Jim Crow laws and the legal challenges for suffrage and civil rights, the riots and conflicts over segregation that dominated the turbulent 1960s, the ongoing struggle with the federal government over home rule, and the rise and fall of controversial mayor Marion Barry.

In some ways, Asch and Musgrove conclude, what Charles Dickens called “the City of Magnificent Intentions” continues to reflect the country’s tensions between its democratic ideals and its racial realities. But the authors are keeping the faith. “We hope that this book will inspire Washingtonians to take up the challenge of black and white abolitionists, of former slaves and Radical Republicans, of civil rights and home rule activists, of freeway protesters and cooperative organizers, to build a more just, egalitarian, and democratic nation’s capital.”

Chris Myers Asch is editor of “Washington History” and teaches history at Colby College. George Derek Musgrove is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Rumor, Repression, and Racial Politics: How the Harassment of Black Elected Officials Shaped Post-Civil Rights America.”

Author E.J. Wenstrom continues her Chronicles of the Third Realm War with the science fiction fantasy “TIDES.”

The Fate of the Realm
Rona is back from the Underworld and she’s spoiling for a fight. “The idea of a fight makes me feel more alive,” she thinks. “And I have a feeling I will get my fight in good time.” In “TIDES,” the third book in E.J. Wenstrom’s Chronicles of the Third Realm War, Rona gets her battle—and then some.

Despite being weakened by her ordeal in the Underworld, she insists on accompanying Jordan, the charismatic leader of Haven, and Adem, the golem who brought her back from the dead, on a diplomatic mission to a nearby town. It does not go well. In fact, all hell breaks loose—literally—with dark forces unleashed into a magical maelstrom of war that pits good against evil. “If I had known all the pain and disaster that lay ahead when we left, would I still have demanded that they bring me along?” she wonders. “The Gods alone know what waits ahead.”

As if her quest weren’t challenging enough, Rona must also overcome her own fears and help lead the people out of theirs. “We live in a time where angels fall from the sky and holes tear open between the realms,” Jordan tells the townspeople. “These are troubled times and there are good reasons to be scared. But we cannot be ruled by fear.” In the end, Rona not only faces her worst terrors, but she also comes to rediscover a cause worth fighting for. She and her band of flawed but fierce warriors must take on nothing less than the task of saving their world from annihilation.

Award-winning fantasy and science fiction author E.J. Wenstrom is also the author of “MUD” and “RAIN,” the two previous books in the series. Find her at

On the Hill in January
East City Bookshop presents a discussion with Celia Wexler (“Catholic Women Confront Their Church”) and Simone Campbell (“A Nun on the Bus”), Jan. 11, 6:30 p.m.; Saving Family Memories: A Writing Workshop with author Louise Farmer Smith, Jan. 14., 3:00-5:00 p.m.; Melodie Winawer (“The Scribe of Siena”), Jan 18, 6:30 p.m.; Samira Ahmed (“Love, Hate and Other Filters”), Jan 23, 6:30 p.m.; and Maud Casey in conversation with Josh Tyree on “The Art of the Mystery,” Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m.

Norman Metzger will discuss “Separating and Remaining: Families in Nazi Germany” (available on Kindle), at the Friday Night Book Group, Christ Church, 620 G St., SE, Jan 5, light supper 6:30 p.m., discussion 7 p.m. All are welcome. or 202-547-9300.