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"A haunting tapestry of interwoven stories that inform us not just about our past but about the resentment-bred demons that are all too present in our society today . . . The interconnected strands of race and history give Ball’s entrancing stories a Faulknerian resonance." —Walter Isaacson, The New York Times Book Review
A 2020 NPR staff pick | One of The New York Times' thirteen books to watch for in August | One of The Washington Post's ten books to read in August | A Literary Hub best book of the summer| One of Kirkus Reviews' sixteen best books to read in August
The life and times of a militant white supremacist, written by one of his offspring, National Book Award–winner Edward Ball
Life of a Klansman tells the story of a warrior in the Ku Klux Klan, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the Civil War. Edward Ball, a descendant of the Klansman, paints a portrait of his family’s anti-black militant that is part history, part memoir rich in personal detail.
Sifting through family lore about “our Klansman” as well as public and private records, Ball reconstructs the story of his great-great grandfather, Constant Lecorgne. A white French Creole, father of five, and working class ship carpenter, Lecorgne had a career in white terror of notable and bloody completeness: massacres, night riding, masked marches, street rampages—all part of a tireless effort that he and other Klansmen made to restore white power when it was threatened by the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. To offer a non-white view of the Ku-klux, Ball seeks out descendants of African Americans who were once victimized by “our Klansman” and his comrades, and shares their stories.
For whites, to have a Klansman in the family tree is no rare thing: Demographic estimates suggest that fifty percent of whites in the United States have at least one ancestor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan at some point in its history. That is, one-half of white Americans could write a Klan family memoir, if they wished.
In an era when racist ideology and violence are again loose in the public square, Life of a Klansman offers a personal origin story of white supremacy. Ball’s family memoir traces the vines that have grown from militant roots in the Old South into the bitter fruit of the present, when whiteness is again a cause that can veer into hate and domestic terror.
Fifteen years after its hardcover debut, the FSG Classics reissue of the celebrated work of narrative nonfiction that won the National Book Award and changed the American conversation about race, with a new preface by the author
The Ball family hails from South Carolina—Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations in the South. Between 1698 and 1865, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them. In Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball recounts his efforts to track down and meet the descendants of his family's slaves. Part historical narrative, part oral history, part personal story of investigation and catharsis, Slaves in the Family is, in the words of Pat Conroy, "a work of breathtaking generosity and courage, a magnificent study of the complexity and strangeness and beauty of the word ‘family.'"
In 2000, after a decade in New York City, Ball bought a house in Charleston, South Carolina, home to his father's family for generations, and furnished it with heirloom pieces from his relatives. In one old desk he was startled to discover a secret drawer, sealed perhaps since the Civil War, in which someone had hidden a trove of family hair, with each lock of hair labeled and dated. The strange find propelled him to investigate: what might DNA science reveal about the people -- Ball's family members, long dead -- to whom the hair had belonged? Did the hair come from white relatives, as family tradition insisted? How can genetic tests explain personal identity?
Part crime-scene investigation, part genealogical romp, The Genetic Strand is a personal odyssey into DNA and family history. The story takes the reader into forensics labs where technicians screen remains, using genetics breakthroughs like DNA fingerprinting, and into rooms where fathers nervously await paternity test results. It also summons the writer¹s entertaining and idiosyncratic family, such as Ball¹s antebellum predecessor, Aunt Betsy, who published nutty books on good Southern society; Kate Fuller, the enigmatic ancestor who may have introduced African genes into the Ball family pool; and the author¹s first cousin Catherine, very much alive, who donates a cheek swab from a mouth more attuned to sweet iced tea than DNA sampling.
Writing gracefully but pacing his story like an old-fashioned whodunit, Edward Ball tracks genes shared across generations, adding suspense and personal meaning to what the scientists and Nobel laureates tell us. A beguiling DNA tale, The Genetic Strand reaches toward a new form of writing the genetic memoir.
One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon (and former California governor) Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media.
Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge's quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history unspools a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity.
Born in England sometime before World War II, Dawn Langley Simmons began life as a boy named Gordon Langley Hall. Gordon was the son of servants at Sissinghurst Castle, the estate of Vita Sackville-West, where as a child he met Vita's lover Virginia Woolf. In his twenties, Gordon made his way to New York, where he became an author of society biographies and befriended such grandes dames as the actress Margaret Rutherford and the artist and heiress Isabel Whitney, who left him a small fortune.
The money allowed Gordon to buy a mansion in Charleston and fill it with period furniture, providing a stage for him to entertain more great ladies and to climb the social ladder of the Southern gentry to its heights.
However, Gordon's world changed instantly in 1968, when at The Johns Hopkins Hospital he underwent one of the first sex-reassignment surgeries, returning to Southern society and scandalizing Charleston as the new Dawn Langley Hall. Dawn Hall furthermore announced that her surgery had been corrective, because she'd actually been misidentified as a boy at birth.
Three months later, Dawn raised the stakes in still-segregated Charleston when she arranged her very public marriage to a young black mechanic, John-Paul Simmons. In due course, Dawn appeared around town pregnant; finally, she could be seen pushing a baby carriage with a child -- her daughter, Natasha.
National Book Award-winning author Edward Ball (Slaves in the Family) has written a detective story that deciphers the riddle of Dawn Simmons, a once rich and infamous changeling who died in 2000, her sexual identity never determined.
Peninsula of Lies is an engrossing narrative of a person who tested every taboo, as well as the confidence of observers in their own eyes.