On top of their regular reviewing duties, The Times’s book critics Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai have spent the last several months brawling behind the scenes to compile an unimpeachable list of the 50 best memoirs published since 1969. On this week’s podcast, they join John Williams, their editor on the project, to talk about the process and shine a light on their decision-making, including personal favorites and pet peeves.
“If a memoir sounded like it was written by a precocious teenager, I was really turned off,” Szalai explains. “But if it sounded like it was written by a child or by a grown-up, that was pleasing to me. I really liked that.”
Daniel Okrent visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Guarded Gate,” a look at the way America in the 1920s relied on the faulty “science” of eugenics to justify a restrictive immigration policy. “Immediately after World War I, in any given year there were as many as 220,000 Italian immigrants in a single year, and about 105,000 Eastern European Jews,” Okrent says. “Then came the 1924 Immigration Act, which cut it off. And the bugle call that announced the coming of that act was issued in 1921, in an article in, of all places, Good Housekeeping magazine that said, ‘Now that science has proven — has proven — that these people are biologically inferior, we have to keep them out.’ And the author of that article was Calvin Coolidge, a month before he was sworn in as vice president.”
Pamela Paul is the host.
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