Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author and host of the podcast “Revisionist History,” is an avid book lover.
He reads historical fiction, pop psychology, dense academic texts, and everything in between. Often, he incorporates the insights into his own books or essays.
This year, Gladwell said one of the best books he’s read so far is an account of the racial and political histories in Atlanta, Georgia, called “Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: A Saga of Race and Family” by Gary Pomerantz.
“It’s probably the best book I’ve read in quite some time,” Gladwell told Business Insider.
Pomerantz, a longtime journalist at the Atlanta Constitution, published the book in 1997, though Gladwell read it for the first time recently. The text explores the divide between white and black populations in Atlanta beginning in the post-Civil War reconstruction period, and charts the lineage of two families up to the 1996 Summer Olympics. Gladwell called the depth of reporting for the book “astronomical.”
“It’s an incredibly cool way to think about a city,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by Atlanta, and I didn’t really understand the city until I read that book.”
The title refers to two streets in Atlanta: Peachtree and Sweet Auburn. While Peachtree was the bustling main artery for white business owners, Sweet Auburn was the older hub for black business owners. The streets intersect geographically, but Atlanta’s decades of segregation ensured the two communities never did.
However, Pomerantz profiles two families that helped bridge the divide: the Allens and the Dobbses. The Allens, led by patriarch Iran Allen Sr., the son of a Confederate soldier, came to Atlanta in 1897 seeking prosperity. The Dobbses, meanwhile, arrived by way of John Wesley Dobbs, the son of an emancipated slave who came to Atlanta in 1895 in search of an education. Though the two men led vastly different personal lives, they often stood on the same side politically.
Both created political legacies through the 20th centuries. Iran Allen Jr. became mayor in 1962. Maynard Jackson Jr., Dobbs’ grandson, became the city’s first black mayor in 1973. Despite living in a segregated community, the families cooperated to bring liberalism to the American south.
The book concludes with the 1996 Olympics, a fitting symbol of unity in a city that was intensely divided for more than a century.
“It’s told so beautifully through these two families,” Gladwell said. “It’s really a remarkable book.”