Edward Ball is the author of Slaves in the Family and The Inventor and the Tycoon: The Murderer Eadweard Muybridge, the Entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the Birth of Moving Pictures, among other books. He is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. (March 2017)


The Mind of Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia
In December 2016, big billboards go up in Charleston that show an AR-15 assault rifle with a red bow tied around it and the line, “All I want for Christmas is You.” A gun store is pushing its Blackhawk brand military weapons. Guns are embedded in South Carolina culture, with …

United States v. Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof (second from left) during the initial stage of jury selection for his trial for the murder of nine worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, September 2016
In early January, three weeks into the federal trial of Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, a prison guard named Lauren Knapp gave testimony about The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

At Last, a Black History Museum

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in September 2016
When I was sixteen and growing up in New Orleans, I stole a bottle of liquor from a supermarket and was caught. The judge sentenced me to the mild punishment for white teens, a tour of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. “Go up to Angola, son,” he said, “then after that your record’s wapped clean.”