Book Report

New titles by local authors, including two parenting books and the little-known story of African-American soldiers in John Brown's army



There’s nothing more stressful than not feeling in control. That’s why William Stixrud and Ned Johnson want well-meaning parents to stop nagging, listen to kids and allow them to have some autonomy. Their book, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives (Viking, February 2018), is not about letting kids run the show but rather encouraging anxious parents to trust kids more. “Some parents think that if they let up, their kid is going to sink into an abyss,” says Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist from Silver Spring whose co-author is the founder of Bethesda-based PrepMatters tutoring service. “It’s important to treat kids respectfully. They want to do well, and they can make some pretty good decisions for themselves.”

Whitney Ellenby wrote Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain (Köehler Books, April 2018) to share her personal story of heartache and joy in raising her son, Zach, now 17, who has autism. The Bethesda resident and former U.S. Department of Justice attorney describes her determination to expose Zach to concerts and movies, despite his public outbursts, and how the family coped. “It’s not that either your child recovers and you have a happy ending, or your child doesn’t and you are devastated,” says Ellenby, who founded the nonprofit Autism Ambassadors in 2008. “It’s possible to have an ‘unrecovered’ child who is able to navigate the community, form attachments to others, become employed, even with the limitations of his disability.”  

The latest book by Bethesda’s Gary Krist, The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles (Crown, May 2018), examines the growth of L.A. from 100,000 people in 1900 to more than 1 million in 1930. “There is no good reason for Los Angeles to exist where it exists. It didn’t have enough water for a big city. It is isolated from the rest of the country by mountains and deserts. It didn’t have a good port or natural resources,” Krist says. “It took a lot of creativity, and not all of it was entirely honest.” After years of writing fiction, Krist took up nonfiction with books about cities, including Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans and City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.

Eugene Meyer was on assignment for The Washington Post in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, when he first learned of the black men who were involved in the attempt led by white abolitionist John Brown to incite a slave uprising there in 1859. Later, as a freelancer, Meyer dug deeper and uncovered their stories of bravery in Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army (Chicago Review Press, June 2018). The book sheds light on the raid against the federal armory in Harpers Ferry and the fate of these African-Americans—two were killed, two later hanged and one escaped. “These five men deserved to have their stories told and not just be footnotes or forgotten,” says the Silver Spring author, also a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine.

All book covers file photos.
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