For more than two decades, Joshua Prager, a former senior writer for The Wall Street Journal, has written about historical secrets. He has revealed all from the hidden scheme that led to baseball’s most famous moment (Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World”) to the only-ever anonymous recipient of a Pulitzer Prize (a photographer he tracked down in Iran). His work, described by George Will as “exemplary journalistic sleuthing,” sheds new light on our cultural touchstones.
Continuing in this vein is his groundbreaking new book, The Family Roe, “a masterclass in reporting” (TIME). It details the hidden lives behind Roe v. Wade, humanizing the Supreme Court’s most enduringly divisive case, and enabling us to reassess Roe, to view abortion not through politics but people—starting with the plaintiff “Jane Roe.”
Despite her famous pseudonym, no one knows the full truth about Norma McCorvey (1947–2017), whose unwanted pregnancy in 1969 opened this great fracture in American life. Prager spent years with McCorvey, discovering her personal papers—a previously unseen trove—and witnessing her final moments. Drawing on a decade of research, The Family Roe reveals the woman behind “Roe.” Propelled by the crosscurrents of politics, sex and religion, gender and class, McCorvey’s life tells the complicated and shifting saga of abortion in America. Writing in novelistic detail about her personal struggles, Prager recounts her story in full for the first time, including an explosive revelation at the core of the case: McCorvey never had the abortion she’d sought and gave birth to three daughters, all placed for adoption.
Prager found those women, including the youngest—”Baby Roe”—now fifty years old. She shares her never-before-told perspective in The Family Roe, from her tortured interactions with her birth mother, to her emotional first meeting with her sisters, to the burden that was uniquely hers from conception.
The Family Roe also chronicles the stories of pro-choice and pro-life activists alike, among them three figures as important as they are unknown: feminist lawyer Linda Coffee, who filed the original Texas lawsuit yet now lives in obscurity; Curtis Boyd, a former fundamentalist Christian, today a leading provider of third-trimester abortions; and Mildred Jefferson, the first Black female Harvard Medical School graduate, who became a pro-life leader with great secrets. An epic work spanning fifty years of American history, The Family Roe is poised to change the way we think about our enduring American divide: the right to choose or the right to life.
A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Family Roe was named a best book of the year by TIME and NPR, and a notable work by The New York Times. NPR’s Michel Martin wrote “the scope is sweeping, the writing is beautiful. It’s an epic story worthy of the impact this one case has had on the American psyche”, and Peggy Noonan urged “if you want to understand Roe more deeply… read it.”
“Through rigorous reporting and sensitive portrayals, Prager animates Roe’s leading and supporting figures and remakes our understanding of them… to transform Roe from an abstract legal doctrine into an epic family saga.… In the end, Prager gives us neither heroes nor villains. He elicits our empathy toward almost everyone in his cast of characters. That’s no easy feat when our inclination is to see each person through our partisan eyes. Prager’s reportage destabilizes our righteousness, disarms our sense of outrage and offers us a breather, even as Roe v. Wade may be taking its last breaths.”—The Washington Post
Revealing the hidden and forgotten is the through line that has defined Prager’s work. His book The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World, uncovered the secret cheating scandal behind the generation-defining 1951 New York Giant’s baseball pennant. Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review called The Echoing Green “a revelation and a page turner, a group character study unequaled in baseball writing since Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer.” Prager is also a co-author of 100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of Life, a collection of literary quotations on every age for our first hundred years. In collaboration with art design by Milton Glaser—the legendary graphic designer who created the I ♥ NY logo—Prager draws from the words of our most beloved authors, to illuminate the ebb and flow of an entire life. Fittingly, the New York Times Book Review noted, “as the pages pass, there is an increasingly wistful sense of what time takes from us.”
In his two popular TED Talks, with over three million total views, Prager probes deep questions on subjects ranging from self-deception, identity and personal transformation in the face of the catastrophic bus accident that left him a hemiplegic at the age of 19, to the life wisdom that transcends continents, cultures, and generations. Beyond TED, he has addressed audiences at Google, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Narrative Journalism Conference in South Africa.
A former Nieman fellow at Harvard, Prager has held a Fulbright Distinguished Chair at Hebrew University. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal, where he was a senior writer for eight years. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.
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