Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury (Paperback)

Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury By Drew Gilpin Faust Cover Image
On Our Shelves Now
On hand as of Jul 15 1:20pm



A memoir of coming of age in a conservative Southern family in postwar America.

To grow up in the 1950s was to enter a world of polarized national alliances, nuclear threat, and destabilized social hierarchies. Two world wars and the depression that connected them had unleashed a torrent of expectations and dissatisfactions—not only in global affairs but in American society and Americans’ lives.

A privileged white girl in conservative, segregated Virginia was expected to adopt a willful blindness to the inequities of race and the constraints of gender. For Drew Gilpin, the acceptance of both female subordination and racial hierarchy proved intolerable and galvanizing. Urged to become “well adjusted” and to fill the role of a poised young lady that her upbringing imposed, she found resistance was necessary for her survival. During the 1960s, through her love of learning and her active engagement in the civil rights, student, and antiwar movements, Drew forged a path of her own—one that would eventually lead her to become a historian of the very conflicts that were instrumental in shaping the world she grew up in.

Culminating in the upheavals of 1968, Necessary Trouble captures a time of rapid change and fierce reaction in one young woman’s life, tracing the transformations and aftershocks that we continue to grapple with today.

Includes black-and-white images

About the Author

Drew Gilpin Faust is the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University. She was Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2001 to 2007, and after twenty-five years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, she served as Harvard's president from 2007 to 2018. Faust is the author of several books, including This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, winner of the Bancroft Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; and Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, which won the Francis Parkman Prize. She and her husband live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Praise For…


A thrilling chronicle of awakening and activism.” —Jessica Ferri, The Washington Post

Shining forth is the resolve to fight for equity that has shaped [Faust’s] life, through her youthful activism as a college student in the 1960s and, later, as a historian of the South.” —Martha Southgate, The New York Times Book Review

"[An] exquisitely reasoned and elegantly written memoir . . . a necessary perspective for today." —Diane Cole, The Wall Street Journal

“Faust has gone back to a foreign country—America when post-1945 conventions and complacencies began to crumble—and has returned with a needed gift for today’s nation: an example of mature assessment.” —George Will, The Washington Post

"In a powerful new memoir, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust details her experiences shedding the expectations of her insulated upbringing and the thoughtful courage it took to transcend the antiquated racial and gender biases of the time. This intricate narrative encapsulates the not-so-pleasant conflicts many struggled to overcome during the turbulent post-World War II period. Few overcame as successfully as Dr. Faust, and this publication should inspire those of us confronting similar challenges in today’s America." —Congressman James E. Clyburn

"Such a wonderful book. I can’t wait to give copies to my daughters. All young women should read this book. And everyone else, too." —Sally Mann, author of Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

"This is a really terrific book, and I cannot urge people more to read it because it's so personal and so beautifully written." —Fareed Zakaria

“In Necessary Trouble [Faust] has given us a cogent, clear-eyed account of a violent, vexed era and a glimpse of the first part of a considered life. Perhaps some of her good sense and moral strenuousness will rub off, enough to help us cope with our own turbulent time.” —Adam Begley, The Spectator

“Drew Gilpin Faust’s memoir is both a moving personal narrative and an enlightening account of the transformative political and social forces that impacted her as she came of age in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s an apt combination from an acclaimed historian who’s also a powerful storyteller.” —Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor

"[Necessary Trouble] lays out a great life story in how very small acts of courage make a remarkable difference in creating one's legacy. For those who sometimes hold back, to not be uncomfortable, this book is an inspiration in action." —Michael Gale, Forbes

"Faust nimbly blends the personal and the political in this affecting memoir . . . Faust pulls off a brilliant synthesis, grounding the macro stresses of the period in her quest to distance herself from her culture of origin and sharpen her political sensibilities." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Necessary Trouble is a beautifully rendered coming-of-age narrative of a sensitive young woman—raised in a conservative white family of privilege in rural Virginia horse country—whose growing awareness of the suffocating conventions of gender gradually awakens her to the inequities of race. Through superb storytelling and delightfully lyrical prose, Drew Faust demonstrates, day-to-day, the inextricable interplay of class, gender, and race in mid-twentieth century America far more effectively than a scholarly treatise could ever achieve. Necessary Trouble is destined to be a classic of American memoir.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

"This gem of a memoir is a triumph. Drew Faust's rich portrait of the South she grew up in and how she and it went through radical transformation is a necessary book for our times." —Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

"An inviting, absorbing look at a privileged childhood in the segregated South and the birth of a questioning spirit." —Kirkus Reviews

"Drew Gilpin Faust speaks to us here not as Harvard's former president but as a member of a generation that had to navigate a world very different from the one it was born into. The result is a spectacular coming-of-age memoir that is at once deeply personal and highly relevant." —Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Justice on the Brink: A Requiem for the Supreme Court

"This riveting, brave, and poignant memoir shows historian Drew Faust at her best, placing her own youth on the map of history. While revealingly personal, Necessary Trouble is also a larger story of generational, gender, and racial divides, and of wars domestic and foreign. Faust’s account of growing beyond a Southern family hamstrung by its past, and transforming her sights via 'the movement' for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, stirringly evokes the moral seriousness impelling the rebellious 1960s generation." —Nancy F. Cott, author of Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home between the Wars

Necessary Trouble makes for necessary reading: Drew Faust's riveting memoir describes a youth lived in the tumult of American history, from her privileged but uneasy childhood in the South (as a girl of nine she wrote to Eisenhower to condemn segregation) to her early engagement, as a high school and college student, in the vital progressive causes of the 60s, building alliances behind the Iron Curtain, participating in anti-war protests and, most abidingly, fighting for racial justice. Harvard University's first woman president offers us a narrative at once challenging and inspiring, and a way of living in these still, or newly, uncertain times." —Claire Messud, author of Kant's Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

For those of us that lived through that period [the 50s and 60s], this book is an important reminder that we should never forget. For those who were not yet born, the book brings the period to life. The reader learns about a life dedicated to 'learning and examining, suffused with a sense of purpose.' That purpose for Faust has focused on social justice and seeking the truth . . . John Lewis would be proud that this book is entitled Necessary Trouble.” —Freeman A. Hrabowski III, President Emeritus of UMBC

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250338211
ISBN-10: 1250338212
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 320
Language: English