Top Five: Author and Editor Dorothy Wickenden

The Southern Westchester author and editor on her five favorite works of historical nonfiction

Dorothy Wickenden, a Southern Westchester resident, has been executive editor of The New Yorker since 1996. In 2008, she uncovered her grandmother’s vivid accounts as a schoolteacher in the Colorado Rockies nearly a century earlier and wrote a much-admired article on them. Wickenden went on to expand that piece into the New York Times bestseller Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West. A fan of historical nonfiction, she recommends these titles:


1) Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
Wickenden calls this multiple biography of Lincoln’s cabinet—his former rivals for the presidency—not only “a stunning work of scholarship but also a gripping read.” She adds that the title, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and noted historian, reveals “how Lincoln’s character shaped his presidency and the men he asked to help him lead the country.”
2) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (David Grann)
“The best true-life adventure story I can think of,” says Wickenden about this account of explorer Percy Fawcett’s quest, embarked on in 1925, to uncover a city believed to have been buried in the jungle. “Fawcett’s mysterious disappearance,” she adds, “and Grann’s own journey into the Amazon’s ‘green hell,’ are irresistible.”
3) The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (Nicholas Lemann)
The author, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a former longtime resident of Pelham, follows the lives of several African American families who migrated from Mississippi to Chicago beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 70s. Wickenden describes this account of how the War on Poverty affected these families as “a seamless stitching together of personal stories with public policies.”
4) 1776 (David McCullough)
“Riveting” is how Wickenden describes this story of the unseasoned George Washington leading the ragtag Continental Army to victory. It will hold particular appeal to local history buffs, she adds, as many of key battles occur here in Westchester.
5) The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (Caroline Alexander)
Wickenden finds this account of explorer Ernest Shackleton, whose ship got crushed by ice before he and his crew could make their 1914 journey across Antarctica, unforgettable. Gorgeous images by the expedition’s photographer, Frank Hurley, add immeasurably, she says, to this gripping tale of Shackleton’s leadership during the 20-month ordeal on—and escape from—the ice floes.


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