Near the end of My Father’s Bonus March, Adam Langer remembers listening to a tape recording of his family made in 1964, three years before he was born. “But there’s very little content here that would interest anyone outside of my family,” he writes with refreshing reticence. A novelist, playwright, and onetime Reader theater critic, Langer doesn’t fill his new memoir with trivia. His entry point is his father’s fascination with the Bonus March, a Depression-era protest during which thousands of struggling World War I veterans gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand benefits promised them. To Seymour Langer it was “the most overlooked event in twentieth-century American history,” and he always insisted he would write a book about it someday. But he never did.

Why would a radiologist who hadn’t served in the armed forces and had no political ax to grind be so obsessed with that particular event? In the course of trying to find out, Langer delves not only into his own family history—which is often funny and touching, if not dramatic—but also researches the Jewish immigrant experience in Chicago during the 1930s, when his father was growing up on the west side. Langer looks for the stories that his father, a self-contained man, had never told him; he also learns that some of the stories that his father did tell him were borderline fabulist. The result is a lot of content that will interest plenty of people outside of his own family. —Jerome Ludwig