Bestseller lists are full of titles about inspiring social movements from American history. Wide Awake shares many thematic elements with these great recent examples:
- Schulman, Sarah. Let the Record Show: A Political History of Act Up New York, 1987-1993. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.
An unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds changed the world in the course of six years. Armed with rancor and intelligence, they took on the AIDS crisis, overpowered conservatives, and secured AIDS treatment for all.
- Halberstam, David. The Children. New York: Fawcett Books, 1999.
The story of 8 young people who, inspired by workshops on nonviolence, become involved in the fight against segregation, beginning with sit-ins at lunch counters, and progressing to ever more dangerous actions on behalf of the civil rights movement.
The rise of progressive Gen-Z as a force in American politics is animating the Democratic Party and selling a lot of books about young people’s role in today’s social movements:
- Duca, Lauren. How to Start a Revolution: Young People and the Future of Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Teen Vogue columnist presents an accessible guide for today’s young adults on how to follow the examples of the newest generation of elected progressives to challenge the status quo and promote an equitable democracy.
- Sanders, Bernie. Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. NYC: St Martin’s Press, 2018.
Tales from the inner circle of the 2016 primary and the stories of the young people who helped Sanders’ campaign win 22 states with 13 million votes. Sanders outlines a transformative progressive vision that still energizes young people.
This story, Wide Awake is similarly about young people fighting for a transformative progressive vision and fighting to capture the reins of a major political party. Aspirationally, The Wide Awakes are an example of when young progressives actually succeeded in the task. For a generation, the Republican Party was theirs. But there was a price for their victory…war.
Wide Awake is well-positioned because the Civil War still rivets the public’s attention and imagination; Americans read countless books and magazine articles, watch hours of films and documentaries, and visit battle sites of the War every year.
One of the many recent Nonfiction-History books that acknowledges how radical abolitionists made room for change and shook up America’s pre-Civil War stalemate:
- Brands, H W. The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln and the Struggle for American Freedom. New York: Random House, 2020.
Lincoln spoke cautiously, plotting his path to Washington, yet his caution could not protect him from the vortex of violence John Brown had set in motion. Brown’s social movement led many in the North to accept violence in defense of human rights while Southern conservatives reacted similarly – in defense of white supremacy.
The Wide Awakes were one of those groups, inspired by radical abolitionists, which accepted using violence to end the slave power oligarchy of the South. They were willing to fight for justice. This courage electrified voters in the North and terrified voters in the South. A dynamic which leads to another popular category of books on the market today which Wide Awake pivots off:
- Tenold, Vegas. Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America. Nation Books, 2018.
Years embedded among America’s most extreme white nationalist militia groups, this explosive bestseller tracks these newly empowered fascist movements, from their conventions to their backroom meetings with Republican Party operatives.
Similar to President Trump’s operational ties to domestic terrorists who attacked the Capitol, the Wide Awakes were Lincoln’s liberal paramilitaries. Their generation had come to see politics as a zero-sum game. The Wide Awakes’ militarism carried a hope that the Republican party might finally finish off the last northern Democrats.
That these young people fought (sometimes violently) and succeeded, might make them aspirational to the readers of books about today’s left-wing activist movements which perennially struggle for power.
However, seeing what came of the Wide Awakes’ success, and noting how closely their worst moments mirror today’s fascist political clubs, The Wide Awakes also serves as cautionary tale.