Skip to main content

Adam Hochschild: On Unlearned History Repeating Itself

Award-winning author Adam Hochschild discusses the surprising things he learned in writing his new historical nonfiction book, American Midnight.

Adam Hochschild is the author of 11 books, including King Leopold's Ghost and To End All Wars (both finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and Bury the Chains (a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN USA Literary Award). He has written for the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Adam Hochschild: On Unlearned History Repeating Itself

Adam Hochschild

In this post, Adam discusses the surprising things he learned in writing his new historical nonfiction book, American Midnight, his advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Adam Hochschild
Literary agent: Georges Borchardt, Inc.
Book title: American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release date: October 4, 2022
Genre/category: History
Previous titles: Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son; The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey; The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin; Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels; King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa; Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves; To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918; Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939; Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays; Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radica, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes.
Elevator pitch for the book: The Trumpiest period of American history before Trump was the years 1917-1921, filled with rage against immigrants, a frenzy of red-baiting, and a couple of things Trump would have liked to do: throwing dissenters in jail and massively censoring the press.

Adam Hochschild: On Unlearned History Repeating Itself

IndieBound | Bookshop | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

What prompted you to write this book?

I’m astonished that this period is not better known. It tends to get left out of history textbooks, but it shows dramatically the nasty currents of xenophobia, racism, and vigilante justice that are never far below the surface in this country.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

The writing and research took me close to three years. Although I had something of a head start because the woman who was the subject of my previous book, Rebel Cinderella, had lived through this period. And I had also written magazine pieces about several other parts of the story.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The Age of Zoom has certainly changed some of the things you do to publicize a new book these days.

Adam Hochschild: On Unlearned History Repeating Itself

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I think the biggest surprise was about the character of Woodrow Wilson. We think of him as the most scholarly of American presidents—a prolific author, a former university president—and, with his dream of the League of Nations, a visionary internationalist. In recent years, people have become more aware of how racist he was, and a few buildings and institutions have been renamed as a result.

But until writing this book I had no idea how little he cared about civil liberties. He was an enthusiast for press censorship and showed no concern at all about the thousands of Americans jailed during his second term because of what they had written or said.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

A sense of how fragile democracy and the rule of law can be, and how vigilant we have to be to be sure they are not eroded. And also, a sense of outrage and surprise: Why didn’t they learn more about this extraordinary time in school?

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Always, always be thinking: How can I tell this story in a way that will make it enticing and irresistible to a reader who previously didn’t think he or she was interested in this subject?

Getting Started in Writing

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Don't let doubt or fear get the best of you—take a chance and learn how to start writing a book, novel, short story, memoir, or essay. When you take this online writing course, you'll discover your voice, learn the basics of grammar and examine the different types of writing. No matter what type of writing you're planning on crafting—nonfiction or fiction—you'll need guidance along the way.

Click to continue.

Brian Lee Durfee: On Finishing a Fantasy Trilogy

Brian Lee Durfee: On Finishing a Fantasy Trilogy

Artist and author Brian Lee Durfee discusses what it felt like to write the final sentence in his Five Warrior Angels trilogy with his novel, The Lonesome Crown.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 5 WDU Courses, our Short Short Story Competition, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce 5 WDU courses, our short short story competition deadline, and more!

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 27

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 27 is all about resolutions.

Willaims, 11:26

Preslaysa Williams: On Finding Hope in Romance

Award-winning author Preslaysa Williams discusses the process of writing her new romance novel, A Sweet Lowcountry Proposal.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 26

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 26 requires a second thought.

12 Books That Make Perfect Gifts This Holiday Season

12 Books That Make Perfect Gifts This Holiday Season

Here are 12 books released in 2022 that make perfect gifts this holiday season for the reader in your life.

Writing a Nonfiction Crime Story in a Literary Style

Writing a Nonfiction Crime Story in a Literary Style

Rigorous research, incorporating  authentic dialogue, and adding details from true-to-life moments, author Deborah Larkin shares how she wrote a nonfiction crime story in a literary style.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 25

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 25 gets serious.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Deal

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Deal

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character make a deal.