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In today’s polarized atmosphere, it’s tempting to think that politics are as charged as they’ve ever been. Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice quickly disabuses readers of that notion by re-creating a time when the divide was far worse. Reaching back to the origins of the Freedom Riders’ nonviolent, direct-action approach, historian Arsenault narrates the experiences of the biracial groups of activists who attempted to ride public buses through the South in the early ’60s. Though the Supreme Court had recently desegregated interstate bus travel, the riders were out to prove that the decision carried little weight with Southern governors and police forces. Arsenault has a habit of getting in the way of the story, overusing words like “courage” when basic historical facts are enough to persuade us of the riders’ bravery. Yet almost despite himself, he’s crafted an intensely dramatic history—one that keeps us turning the pages as we wonder how badly the riders will be beaten by the forces of Southern reaction. Arsenault appears at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Ryan Grim)