May-June 2021

Book report

New works from Bethesda-area authors

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To many Americans, George Washington is a distant figure on the dollar bill, says David Stewart. But when the Potomac author was researching a book on the first president, he discovered Washington’s human side. “I was struck by how his contemporaries liked him. He had a real emotional intelligence and a tremendous gift of listening,” says Stewart, who wrote George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father (Dutton, February 2021). The book focuses on Washington’s formative years in Virginia’s House of Burgesses and shows how he was able as a politician to effectively engage with others. “You’ve got to have a connection. True intellect is great, but it doesn’t get you elected,” Stewart says. “People have to feel that you care.”

 


This Is What America Looks Like: The Washington Writers’ Publishing House Anthology (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, February 2021) is a collection of poetry and fiction from 100 local writers representing the “voices and full diversity of the DMV, ” says co-editor Caroline Bock of Potomac. Bock worked with co-editor Jona Colson of Washington, D.C., and Kathleen Wheaton of Bethesda, who wrote the foreword. The yearlong volunteer project drew more than 1,000 submissions. “The prompt ‘What does America look like?’ really resonated,” Bock says of the works that explore the pandemic, race, social justice, the immigrant experience, and history in the area. “We are at a crossroads in this country. People who are writers, who are artists, are thinking very deeply about, ‘Where does America go from here?’ ”

 


Louisa Jaggar says too many history books overlook the achievements of people of color and women. That’s why the Bethesda author co-founded the nonprofit The Greatest Stories Never Told and wrote Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States (Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2021) with co-author Shari Becker of Boston. “Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, races, religions and sexes,” says Jaggar, who spent 10 years researching Banning’s life for this children’s book and a play called The Flying Hobos. In 1932, Banning flew from Los Angeles to New York in 21 days (with mechanic Thomas Allen), landing along the way in small towns. They inscribed the names of people who helped them on the plane’s wing.

 


After years of writing novels about organized crime, often set in his home state of New Jersey, Eric Dezenhall based his seventh, False Light (Greenleaf, February 2021), in Washington, D.C., with some scenes in Bethesda, where he lives now. The book follows a seasoned reporter and his friend in a revenge plot to smear the reputation of a prominent media star after the friend’s daughter accuses the star of sexual assault. “It’s about character assassination,” says Dezenhall, who runs a crisis management firm in his day job. The era of #MeToo, fake news and scandal inspired the premise of a story he describes as: “What would happen to a guy who got away with something his whole life and finds himself on the receiving end of somebody just like him?”