Books by Milton Meltzer

ALBERT EINSTEIN by Milton Meltzer
Released: March 1, 2008

Einstein shows no signs of losing his spot as Most Famous Scientist Ever, and here Meltzer makes a brave attempt to explain to younger middle-grade readers why that should be so. Discussions of Einstein's pacifism and deep involvement in human-rights issues share at least equal time with his scientific insights and discoveries. The polished, math-free narrative covers the biographical high spots, from Einstein's youth and schooling ("girls liked this good-looking teenager") through his ground-breaking explanations of the relationship between matter and energy, time and space. Then it chronicles his opposition to World War I, his move to the United States as Hitler came to power, his renowned letter to FDR (the first page of which is reproduced, as one of a small selection of period photos) and his later career as scientific icon. Falling in length and level of detail between Don Brown's Odd Boy Out (2004) and Marfé Ferguson Delano's Genius: A Photobiography of Albert Einstein (2005), this profile will give both thinking children and adult new readers a clear sense of the man's searching intellect and fierce heart. (Biography. 10-12)Read full book review >
TOUGH TIMES by Milton Meltzer
Released: Oct. 15, 2007

In the 1932 Bonus March, 20,000 World War I veterans converged on Washington, D.C., demanding the cash bonus Congress had promised back in 1924. Joey Singer and his father are there, adding their voices to the call for help during the tough times of the Great Depression. On President Herbert Hoover's bidding, General Douglass MacArthur orders an attack, and soon, Joey, his father and thousands of others are fleeing the tanks, machine guns, tear gas and cavalry. Joey hits the road, leaving home like so many others of his time. The Bonus March is the heart of this narrative, and Meltzer, basing his tale on his own experience, does a fine job of providing the context of the event as well as a sense of Joey's parents' and grandfather's stories, tying in information about WWI, the Depression, immigration and the pogroms in Europe. Though character development is secondary to the history presented, the fast-paced plot and the history brought to life will make this a memorable story for its audience. (Fiction. 10+)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 26, 2004

A new entry in the venerable Landmark series examines the economic and social impact of the railroad on (despite the grandiose subtitle) the US. Beginning with a rather surprising assertion—that the railroad's "invention led to the greatest change in human history since farming was invented . . ."—the text does a creditable job of backing itself up. Readers will learn how the railroad revolutionized the transportation of food to population centers, speeded up by magnitudes the white settlement of the west, brought immigrants to the country in droves, formed one of the bulwarks of the labor movement, and redrew the population map of the country. It's a lot for one relatively small book to tackle, but Meltzer by and large manages it, although smooth transitions are frequently sacrificed in order to move on. Characteristically, the author's keen sense of injustice gives rise to the narrative's most impassioned writing, as in his account of the monumental—and largely overlooked—contributions of Chinese labor in "spinning the steel web that tied modern America together." Entirely worthwhile, if a bit overambitious. (Nonfiction. 10+)Read full book review >
HOUR OF FREEDOM by Milton Meltzer
Released: Aug. 1, 2003

A striking and unusual approach to American history, with strong black-and-white illustrations, borders, and fleurons. Meltzer introduces each suite of poems with a page or two of historical background, from the Colonial era to independence to slavery to wars to immigration. He uses the work of famous and familiar poets—Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes—with liberal choices from Anonymous (some of these are songs) and from people born after 1950. The choice of poems like "Old Ironsides," "Bread and Roses," and "O Captain! My Captain!" will allow a new generation to feel the intense rhythms and the dramatic stanzas of this type of narrative. Even the later poems, like Aileen Fisher's "Martin Luther King" or Charlotte Zolotow's "Enemies," one in rhyme, one in free verse, have a powerful verbal thrum to them. This begs to be read aloud, and will engender much discussion about war and freedom and what this country stood for and stands for. A noble effort. (Poetry. 10+)Read full book review >
PIRACY AND PLUNDER by Milton Meltzer
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

Pirates have a romantic image that Meltzer (Case Closed, p. 1130, etc.) effectively undermines in this history of piracy in which he emphasizes the violence and callousness of pirates throughout the ages. Following the practice chronologically, from Homer to modern piracy of items like videos and music CDs, he recounts stories about famous pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Blackbeard, and devotes several pages to females. A section falling halfway through discusses who became pirates and why, everyday life on shipboard, and punishment of pirates by marooning them. One fascinating topic is the pirates' codes of conduct, with one from the early-18th century reprinted in full. The numbered list explains that each man has an equal vote and a fair share of goods, lays out the punishment for desertion and the exact means for settling disputes, and more. Even with such direct quotations, though, Meltzer gives no citations. A selected bibliography provides the only documentation, a serious drawback in a work of nonfiction. The 96 pages are arranged in short sections of a page or two, each under a heading, rather than in longer chapters that might help readers organize the material in their minds. The very last section returns to the issue of romanticizing pirates with a brief look at books and movies that do so and then coming to a surprisingly abrupt close. (Nonfiction. 11-14)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

In his usual meticulous fashion, Meltzer (Piracy and Plunder, below, etc.) explores the many facets of detective work, from the historical perspective to the contemporary sleuthing of the detective on the street and the laboratory scientist. Part one of this fascinating work explores the everyday lives of detectives, how detecting became a profession, what questions detectives have to answer, why they use scientific tools, and the techniques they use when they deal with witnesses and white-collar criminals. Part two describes the many ways forensic science solves crimes in the laboratory. Cogent explanations accompanied by black-and-white photographs detail how scientists use DNA testing or how scientists analyze fabrics, hair, or dirt found at the crime scene in the search for clues. The reader gets a short course in ballistics, visits a serological lab involved in blood testing, learns about the study of documents and handwriting as well as lie detectors and eyewitness identification and forensic anthropology. Part three details the many kinds of detective opportunities available outside the traditional police force. Here, too, Meltzer's in-depth approach segues from the Pinkertons and the Molly Maguires and the growth of the private-detective sector to the current work of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law, where professors and their students have become detectives looking for evidence that frees unjustly accused prisoners. Meltzer blends historical narrative, scientific description, and practical career information to create an interesting, offbeat look behind the scenes of the detective story. An extensive bibliography, photo credits, and index increase its usefulness for student reports. (Nonfiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
WALT WHITMAN by Milton Meltzer
Released: March 1, 2001

Walt Whitman is a rich subject for biography: a long and peripatetic life; jobs that ranged from schoolteacher to printer to Civil War hospital nurse; famed as a journalist, essayist, and above all as a poet. Veteran and much-honored writer Meltzer (Piracy and Plunder, 2001, etc.) does him justice in this readable biography. In every chapter, he places Whitman in the context of his age, from his birth in 1819 on Long Island and his move to Brooklyn, to his journeys during the Civil War, his work in Washington D.C., and his old age in Camden, New Jersey. Meltzer doesn't stint at the complications of Whitman's life: his stern and possibly abusive father; his own homosexuality; and his constant search for reliable income. But what he does so elegantly in this study is capture Whitman's restless spirit and how it both reflected and contradicted the intellectual currents of his time. This is a beautifully designed volume, too, with copious photographs and the color green used to accent chapter headings, page numbers, and so on. Several of Whitman's best-known poems are excerpted as well. A worthy tribute. (Biography. 10-14)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

An accessible and vivid outline of the events that led to changes in civil rights in the US from 1940 through 1968. Starting with slavery, Meltzer (Ten Queens, 1998, etc.) traces the unjust attitudes and deeds behind the suffering that a lack of civil rights has meant for far too many people. This background sets the stage for his concise description of the nonviolent movement in the South, which forced change on an unwilling power structure. The writing is engaging and draws the reader in, never losing track of the facts. One of the few books that mentions the Niagara Movement and the razing of the prosperous black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, the emphasis on the historical continuum assists readers in grasping the ingrained bigotry and injustice and, consequently, the drastic measures required. The emotion is made crystal clear in stirring quotes by the leaders of the times. There is much violence to be reported, and Meltzer neither whitewashes nor belabors it. In a relatively short book, he manages to clearly describe events and convey the passion that energized this nonviolent movement. Black-and-white photographs add a visual side, but most effective is a calendar detailing each separate step toward freedom during this time period. (Nonfiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
TEN QUEENS by Milton Meltzer
Released: May 1, 1998

Meltzer (Weapons and Warfare, 1996, etc.) pulls together what is known and what might be inferred about ten women who held power and used it. He doesn't shirk from the apochryphal origins of Queen Esther, Catherine the Great's probable promiscuity, or Eleanor of Aquitaine's desire for control. Instead, he delineates well and clearly what these women accomplished, and how they changed the course of history for good and ill. He makes Boudicca and Elizabeth of England vividly real, and does a fine job of placing Isabella of Spain at a complicated historical nexus: She brought the horrors of the Inquisition to Spain and drove out the Moors, but united her country and funded Columbus. Meltzer also illuminates some lesser-known queens, such as Zenobia of Syria and Christina of Sweden. Anderson's dramatic paintings serve the text well; neither she nor the author condescend to their readers by prettifying or simplifying the real, sometimes ruthless power these rulers wielded. Already a great read, this is destined to be a favorite resource. (Biography. 10-14) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 30, 1996

Meltzer (Hold Your Horses!, 1995, etc.) presents a sobering overview of the tools and techniques of battle, from prehistoric times to the present, in an intelligent, direct, and necessarily brief style: The subject is so immense that he doesn't spend too much time on any particular topic. The evidence is appropriately depressing: As far back as 10,000 b.c., people have been fighting each other. Diligent reportage on the technological development of weaponry is skillfully accompanied by Martinez's consummate charcoal illustrations that depict these weapons, famous battles, and warriors throughout history. The bloody trail that stretches from wooden clubs to thermonuclear bombs is full of horrors. The reasons for the origins of war are basic enough to grasp: Primitive man fought over lack of food or the possession of a mate. As the reasons for armed combat became more sophisticated, so did the weapons. Meltzer's discussion is more than just a rehashing, and readers will enjoy the intriguing connections the author makes, e.g., between modern ballistic missiles and ancient slingshots and stones. His recitation of statistics regarding current handgun sales within the US and his subsequent appeal to the basic humanity of young readers are the book's best lessons of all. (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1995

To a book about horses, Meltzer (Cheap Raw Material, 1994, etc.) brings his perspective on all things cultural and, apart from supplying readers with a wealth of facts, poses questions concerning the psychology of the horse and the people and cultures associated with it. The only deficiency is a structural one. The lens is first wonderfully wide-angled: Meltzer begins with the evolution of the horse from prehistoric times and then takes readers from the Middle East to Europe and Asia, through Antiquity, Islam, the Middle Ages, and the Crimean War. Suddenly the perspective shrinks: the next hundred pages focus almost solely on the New World and the US. In short, the beginning of the book promises more than it delivers, and in the shift from a truly global perspective to an American one, becomes limited in its use. Still, a worthwhile read. (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

After surveying the history of child labor, a premier nonfiction author for young adults presents a shocking report: Such exploitative use of young people is not just "a plague of the past." Meltzer uses numerous first-person accounts from investigators and young workers to document the sordid working conditions and meager pay that were characteristic during the period when American factories, mines, and mills were being built; employers fought efforts to regulate them as "socialistic" and eulogized the "character-building" benefits of working to children, especially immigrants. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 promised an end to exploitation; but the examples here show that it still exists, especially among immigrants and the poor, and is still justified with the same arguments from employers. Especially compelling are stories of teenagers dying in dangerous work situations. A rousing call for decency and social justice. (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
GOLD by Milton Meltzer
Released: Dec. 30, 1993

Meltzer sums up the range and theme of his interesting history in a 14-karat subtitle: The True Story of Why People Search for It, Mine It, Trade It, Steal It, Mint It, Hoard It, Shape It, Wear It, Fight and Kill for It—not quite a 24-karat description, since what Meltzer presents in detail is not "Why" but how people have found, used, and misused gold. From earliest recorded history until the present, gold has been fashioned into beautiful objects, while its miners have been enslaved and used with terrible cruelty. The author (whose adult Slavery was published in 1993) devotes much of the book to this in a worldwide survey that ranges from ancient Egyptian and Roman quotes to recent accounts of South African mines and the exploitation of Peruvian children. More briefly, he discusses changing technology and the economic role of gold, describes a surprising number of gold rushes, and touches on: alchemy, hoarding, historical insights gleaned from artifacts (the ingenious Incas had a chemical technique for gilding), and more. A bit idiosyncratic in its inclusions, but informed, as usual, by Meltzer's strong social conscience and respect for truth, justice, and the facts. (Nonfiction. 10+) Read full book review >
ANDREW JACKSON by Milton Meltzer
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

A scathing portrayal of the man who presided over an era when slavery became more deeply entrenched, Native-Americans were hounded from their eastern homelands, and US citizens flooded Texas in anticipation of its annexation. The dueling pistols featured on the jacket, along with the chapter headings, underline Meltzer's theme: the feisty orphan, quick to defend his honor against any offense, matured to become an autocrat who won power via a charismatic personality and such happenstance as being proclaimed hero of the Battle of New Orleans through no particular merit. As he did in Columbus (1990) and Thomas Jefferson (1991), Meltzer points out the ongoing significance of events and builds his central portrait with a wealth of vivid, concrete detail; but though he also sees slaveholder and Indian- fighter Jackson as a product of his times, he has virtually no sympathy for him: from appointing Roger Taney (of Dred Scott notoriety) to the Supreme Court to his role in the demise of the Second Bank of the United States, Meltzer depicts Jackson as a propagandist who posed as the workingman's friend while consistently, and often illegally, undermining his interests. No specific citations for quotes, but the author provides an excellent essay on his sources and a good selection of maps and period art, posters, etc. (though some of the cartoons are too small and dark to read). (Biography. 11+) Read full book review >
LINCOLN by Milton Meltzer
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Describing Lincoln as "one of the greatest masters of the English language," Meltzer lets him speak eloquently for himself, skillfully selecting passages from Lincoln's speeches, letters, and other writings to characterize the man, follow the development of his ideas, and exemplify his achievements. Roughly half the words here are Lincoln's, with Meltzer's commentary setting them in context with enough specific events, telling details, and lucid interpretation to make this a fine biography, as well as a compilation of beautifully balanced prose substantiating Meltzer's assessment of Lincoln as a "great mind and...noble spirit"—a political realist whose determination to save the Union was always informed by his compassion for the slaves. Included are 14 "Brief Profiles of Lincoln's Contemporaries," significant figures from Jefferson to Grant- -writers, abolitionists, politicians; their portraits are among the many striking full-page linocuts adorning this handsome volume. Alcorn's art is a mixed success: some of his fanciful depictions of the era are clumsy or obscure, but, overall, they're moving and sometimes decorative. His portraits, too, are not equally effective, but at their best they are powerful and telling. An excellent illustrator's note elucidates Alcorn's philosophy and aims; a lengthy chronology samples contemporaneous political and social history; there's also a fine note on sources; index. A splendid book, for every library. (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
THE AMAZING POTATO by Milton Meltzer
Released: Aug. 30, 1992

Meltzer's long subtitle—"A Story in Which the Incas, Conquistadors, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, Wars, Famines, Immigrants, and French Fries All Play a Part"—suggests the range of his latest fascinating exploration of social history. Covering the potato's nutritional value and economic importance, its early culture and the superstitions that attended its spread, the terrible consequences of Ireland's potato famine and the effect in the US of the attendant migration, and even some methods of cooking this versatile vegetable, Meltzer skillfully dramatizes the interrelationships among different fields of knowledge and the far-reaching effects a single species can have on the fortunes of mankind. (Nonfiction. 9+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

A fascinating portrait that vividly portrays Jefferson's extraordinary brilliance and complexity—and his deep ambivalence about slavery—setting his ideas against historical events and society and his own uniquely wide-ranging gifts. Unblinking and persistent, Meltzer presents Jefferson as the product and beneficiary of the slave-dependent South, from his earliest memory to the slave-built coffin in which he was buried. The motif is not a condemnation—Meltzer points out that this original thinker was ahead of his time in perceiving slavery as evil. Rather, the book dramatizes the contradictions between the humane philosopher, the persuasive political realist who won support by pushing neither too fast nor too far, and the aristocrat who enjoyed luxury and was the generous head of an extended family, chronically in debt. Marshalling hundreds of telling facts, incidents, and quotes, Meltzer fills each page of a lively, well-organized narrative with insights and intriguing revelations (e.g., that as secretary of state, Jefferson personally approved patents, testing designs himself; and that his scientific paper on one of these was the first ever published by the US). Most admirably, Jefferson is seen here in a world whose difference from ours is exemplified by the fact of his State Department staff numbering just five, as well as by the range of his accomplishments; emphasis on the discrepancies between Jefferson's words and deeds is used as an effective device for bringing the real world in which he lived vibrantly to life. A fine author at his best: outstanding. (Biography. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1990

A cogent survey of the historical roots of the fast ten amendments; how they were written "to strengthen the democratic standard of equality proclaimed as a self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence"; and a brief exposition of each of their provisions, followed by more detailed accounts of how these have fared in the last 200 years. Meltzer eloquently presents civil rights as essential to the functioning of our democratic government, clearly summarizing the importance of landmark cases and substantiating his generalizations with well-chosen detail. His liberal stance is evident and suitable to the subject; but his concerned, rational presentation of such issues as the balance between security and political censorship ("secrecy can become addictive")—as well as his observation that the ultimate purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect us from possible tyranny by the government itself—goes beyond partisanship. An excellent source that also makes engrossing reading. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1990

A cogent survey of the historical roots of the fast ten amendments; how they were written "to strengthen the democratic standard of equality proclaimed as a self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence"; and a brief exposition of each of their provisions, followed by more detailed accounts of how these have fared in the last 200 years. Meltzer eloquently presents civil rights as essential to the functioning of our democratic government, clearly summarizing the importance of landmark cases and substantiating his generalizations with well-chosen detail. His liberal stance is evident and suitable to the subject; but his concerned, rational presentation of such issues as the balance between security and political censorship ("secrecy can become addictive")—as well as his observation that the ultimate purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect us from possible tyranny by the government itself—goes beyond partisanship. An excellent source that also makes engrossing reading. Time line; lengthy, scholarly bibliography plus a bibliographic essay; index. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1990

Meltzer, a recent Jane Addams Book Award honoree who has made a specialty of social history for young people, presents the hero of 1492 as a persuasive visionary, a gifted navigator—and a disastrous administrator who was typical of his time in his callous exploitation of native people. Always scrupulous in giving readers a sense of his sources while distinguishing between the documented and the conjectured, Meltzer tells what's known of Columbus' rise from humble beginnings and his quest for backing from the Spanish crown (in the name of gold plus a Catholic mission to the heathen). Concerning the increasingly unsavory later voyages, Meltzer is unabashedly judgmental, calling the treatment of the natives genocide and even making a parallel with Hitler's Germany—a charge he substantiates with facts. In an admirably lucid opening that outlines the "profound changes[s]" of the period, he sets this sorry story in its early Renaissance context; in conclusion, he reiterates the concept that "prejudice blinds the eye" in explaining Columbus' lack of recognition until the 19th century, while crediting the Indians with being an important source of modern ideals of liberty and equality. A compelling, authoritative portrait. The many historical illustrations and maps are less well captioned and reproduced than those in the Levinson biography (above), but the more abundant and specific detail here—as well as Meltzer's unique blend of clarity, wisdom, and compassion—makes this the better of two fine books. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1989

First-person accounts detailing the many aspects of the Civil War: a companion to Meltzer's The American Revolutionaries: A History in Their Own Words (1987). Meltzer includes documents covering not only the fighting but also the differing points of view on slavery that led to the war; the economic struggles of people left at home; the frightful medical conditions and prison camps; and the war's aftermath. Using actual participants' letters and journals makes searing descriptions—of such events as massive cannon onslaughts and punishing retreats—seem both real and personal; the account of Lincoln's death is especially moving. The short introductions to the excerpts outline the war's progress while putting the quotations in perspective: as one woman rejoices that "My Precious is home," Meltzer cites the staggering death toll. The focus on personal narrative necessarily precludes an in-depth description of the war's causes or course (e.g., slavery and states' rights are emphasized as the war's only causes, and John Brown comes off as a saint). The strength, immediacy, and human feeling are what count here. Grand, authentic source material. Suggested reading; index. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1989

A matter-of-fact look at how our government was established and now functions, and how it can be abused. "We dream of a society free of poverty, racism, sexism, and exploitation in any form. Those who hold to that dream want to use the art of politics to see justice unfold." So speaks a cleareyed idealist who—in chapters devoted to the Founding Fathers (moneyed men and landed gentry, few of them interested in the common people), modern campaigns, elections, presidents and congressmen, lobbyists and bureaucrats—never lets the reader forget who loses when campaigns are run by admen and computers or when politicians become corrupt. Meltzer ends as he began—with a plea for action, giving examples of people who are making a difference. This is a short book about a large topic, successfully introducing and summarizing structure and issues that are rarely presented both so thoughtfully and so passionately at one time. Meltzer has a specific viewpoint—more liberal than conservative, more for the worker than for the owner. A bibliography is included; because of the book's general nature, there is no index. To be illustrated by David Small. Read full book review >
Released: March 24, 1989

A matter-of-fact look at how our government was established and now functions, and how it can be abused. "We dream of a society free of poverty, racism, sexism, and exploitation in any form. Those who hold to that dream want to use the art of politics to see justice unfold." So speaks a cleareyed idealist who—in chapters devoted to the Founding Fathers (moneyed men and landed gentry, few of them interested in the common people), modern campaigns, elections, presidents and congressmen, lobbyists and bureaucrats—never lets the reader forget who loses when campaigns are run by admen and computers or when politicians become corrupt. Meltzer ends as he began—with a plea for action, giving examples of people who are making a difference. This is a short book about a large topic, successfully introducing and summarizing structure and issues that are rarely presented both so thoughtfully and so passionately at one time. Meltzer has a specific viewpoint—more liberal than conservative, more for the worker than for the owner. A bibliography is included; because of the book's general nature, there is no index. To be illustrated by David Small. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1988

From a much-experienced biographer, a life of the protean writer-philosopher-scientist-statesman that readers should find both entertaining and memorable. From Franklin's Boston birth (1706) to his death in Philadelphia (1790), Meltzer seamlessly weaves the events of his life into the context of the times in which they occurred: his early search for an occupation within the Colonial apprenticeship system; his role of politician and diplomat on the seesaw of 18th-century political history. Chapters on his work as a scientist and a writer are especially interesting, giving a new appreciation of his innovations and inventions. Meltzer sees Franklin with a clear, unbiased eye, scrupulously recording faults as well as virtues. Although his writing is more vigorous than elegant, and there are minor stylistic lapses, Franklin springs to life on every page. Format is attractive; contemporary prints illustrate most major events. This should become a standard work in juvenile library collections. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1988

Set against the background of the Holocaust's horrors, stories about many among the thousands who risked their lives to save Jewish neighbors and strangers. Beginning in Germany itself and in Poland, where anti-Semitism ran deepest, Meltzer's story briefly describes a long series of rescues by people who risked betrayal by even their nearest family. In Denmark, the population was virtually unanimous in helping the few Jews there escape to Sweden; the Dutch, with as good a will, were less successful because of their own geography, because the German presence was greater in Holland, and because there were many more Dutch Jews. The Italians, though Hitler's allies, managed through most of the war to ignore Nazi demands for exportation of their Jews. Country by country, Meltzer relates vignettes of heroism varied by longer accounts of the most notable successes: e.g., Trocmé in France, Wallenberg in Hungary, Schindler in Germany; he concludes with some thoughts on the motives of the saviors and the effect of national background, historical tradition, and political views. Such a survey makes national comparisons inevitable; it is to Meltzer's credit that he lets the facts speak for themselves, emphasizing that individual conscience, courage, and compassion in every nation propelled these acts that shone like "tiny flickers" against "the immense darkness of the Holocaust." A valuable, compelling account. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1988

A social historian who has produced many excellent books for young people—including Rescue (above), Never to Forget(on the Holocaust), books on various ethnic groups and the immigrant experience, books reflecting social concerns, and several biographies—describes his first 17 years as a second-generation American. Born on New York's Lower East Side in 1919 to parents who had to struggle for every penny, Meltzer grew up in Worcester, Mass., where the family had somewhat more space and his father was able (by washing windows) to earn enough to scrape by—at least fill the Depression. True to form, Meltzer gives us his own particular social history—explaining that many things now taken for granted seemed very different then (sweets were extraordinary luxuries to his newly arrived parents); compiling his most vivid memories; and detailing his reading and education (although he had an inspiring English teacher, he reports that concentrating on facts killed curiosity and taught students to "con the teacher and beat the system"). He's candid about some misdemeanors, and gives a few especially revealing glimpses: a rare caress from his father, a sudden slap from his mother when she heard he was dating a non-Jew, his own chagrin at the negative image of Jews in Shakespeare and Dickens. A straightforward, engaging account of the early years of a wise, humane writer and person. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1987

It is a cause for true rejoicing when history is rendered lively and interesting to young readers. Meltzer has gathered a brisk, entertaining, thought-provoking collection of documents, letters, accounts and speeches, and has joined them with brief statements that not only introduce each piece but also tie them together. The result is an account of the Revolution, in the words of people who were there, that would delight anyone interested in history. The words are taken, for the most part, from younger sources—people under 30 who migrated to America, who fought in the war or who kept home fires burning, and who (like Tom Paine) formed political theory. Meltzer chooses the words of common people: a woman who keeps house for 22 people worries more about her rising bread than the war; a shoeless soldier whose commander "had ever been so kind to me" dies urging him not to "give up the hill!" Washington is seen through the loving and admiring eyes of his men; battles become real as the terrain is solidly described by farmers' pens. It's a fresh, wide-based, stirring view of a suddenly-real war, and should be available to all young readers. Read full book review >
WINNIE MANDELA by Stephen Marchesi
Released: Sept. 1, 1986

Part of the "Women of Our Time" series, this biography of the wife of the South African leader who has become a freedom fighter in her own right is a clear and timely cry against injustice. After a brief sketch of Mandela's early life, showing how painful early experiences shaped her attitudes towards the injustices of her society, Meltzer turns to her life with Nelson Mandela. Their marriage, based on a determination to put their country's needs above their own, has brought a lifetime of political involvement, climaxed by Winnie's current role. Meltzer takes the story to 1985, when Winnie defied a ban by moving to Soweto after her home in an African "homeland" was destroyed by bombing. Less a biography than a recitation of imprisonments, bannings, and harassments, this narrative is accurate but sometimes confusing, since the constraints of the series prevent Meltzer from providing much background on the issues. His tone is occasionally strident; passion sometimes replaces rational discussion. Still, he is telling an important story, an introduction that should inspire readers to read further. Read full book review >
POVERTY IN AMERICA by Milton Meltzer
Released: May 1, 1986

A compassionate survey of the causes of poverty and the forms it takes in contemporary society, by the author of such notable books on social issues as Never to Forget (the Holocaust) and Ain't Gonna Study War No More. Meltzer researches scrupulously (bibliography included) and writes with a directness and grace that make his books easily accessible to young readers as well as valuable references for all ages. He uses statistics to give authority and drama to facts about the poor, numerous even in our affluent society. Beginning with a description of their lifestyles and deprivations, he goes on to explain the US government's definition of poverty and the effect of that definition. Chapters are given to hunger, urban derelicts ("These are real people, huddled in doorways. . ."), technologically unemployed (". . .the talent that is wasted, the skills that wither. . .the hope that dies"), children, women and minorities, all disproportionately represented among the poor, elderly (". . .the guilt of sons and daughters who have to abandon their parents because. . .they can hardly feed their own children"), farmers ("It's a funny world. . .where farmers go broke while people go hungry"). Finally, there's a brief history of attempts to deal with poverty, from the poor farm to present social legislation, and a discussion of measures which might better conditions. Seeing poverty as an injustice inflicted on various groups by malfunctioning of the economic and social order rather than as a result of ". . .heredity, IQ, shiftlessness, [or] immorality," Meltzer has written a compelling brief advocating constructive change. Read full book review >
Released: April 17, 1985

Meltzer's history of war resistance in the United States is most notable for its forthright condemnation of war—which is not exactly beside the point. He clearly supports the view of early peace groups that "wars are most often fought for profit under the banner of national honor." In this vein he notes how "land-hungry Western warhawks in Congress" pushed through the unpopular war of 1812; and he points up the Mexican War's link with slavery. Similarly, the Spanish-American War of 1898 was fueled by "white racism combined with economic pressure," and World War I, "a war nobody wanted and nobody could stop," stands as an object lesson for today. In Vietnam, "America's most disastrous military adventure," our government deceived its own people and destroyed South Vietnamese society, essentially to avoid political embarrassment. Some wars have been harder to condemn, and Meltzer, having traced the "just war" concept since its fourth-century origin, goes into the Quakers' conflict of conscience during the Civil War and the "terrible moral dilemma" for pacifists posed by World War II. He doesn't presume to answer the question of whether a Hitler could be resisted by nonviolent means, but points to occupied Norway and Denmark as examples of just that. Developed in counterpoint with his history of the wars, Meltzer's chronicle of conscientious objectors and war-resistance groups sometimes becomes a blur of names and acronyms. We learn too little about too many groups, and are served with judgments that deserve further development. However, this is a limitation endemic to the YA survey; and if Meltzer's readers don't remember many names, they may well respond to some of the many quotes from resisters' writings and speeches. They may also be impressed by the long tradition of resistance, the persecution that conscientious objectors have endured, and the large number of today's young men who have ignored draft registration requirements. Read full book review >
THE TERRORISTS by Milton Meltzer
Released: Nov. 1, 1983

Political terrorism without equivocation—taking off from the Brink's holdup and shootout. "How common is political terrorism? How far back does it go? Is it a worldwide phenomenon?" Beginning, expertly, by putting thoughts in the reader's mind, Meltzer proceeds first to define political terrorism: "the exploitation of a state of intense fear, caused by the systematic use of violent means by a party or group, to get into power or to maintain power." He also notes, importantly, that "terrorism has become the weapon of many different ideologies (from extreme right to extreme left), religions, ethnic groups, nationalists." Then, he recounts the activities of terrorist groups from the 11th-century Muslim Assassasina (whence, of course, the word) through the French Revolution to: Russian anarchism (Bakunin, Nechayev, Herzen; Sophia Perovskaya and the assassination of Alexander II); "Terrorism, American Style" (the Reconstruction Klan, imported anarchism); the irish "Troubles"; the Irgun, and Palestinian-Jewish terrorism; the Palestinian-Arab terrorist network; Uruguay's Tupamaros and systematic terrorism; the Baader-Meinhof gang; Italy's Red Brigades; the Weather Underground; and spot-outcroppings today. Again and again, Meltzer notes misgivings, miscarriages, splits—concluding the Irish chapter, for example, with a strong anti-Sinn Fein statement by Conor Cruise O'Brien (and incorporating into the Palestinian-Jewish chapter Weizmann's opposition). But he saves his strongest arguments for the finale—enlisting revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Herzen to testify against "the end justifying the means," or "sanctifying crimes by faith in some remote utopia." Brisk, knowledgeable, incisive. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1982

Meltzer gives us the most forthright treatment yet of the force behind Hispanic-American immigration: namely, the devastating effect on the Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican economies of European colonialism and later US government and business practices. He shows how American sugar corporations and tax policy reduced Puerto Rico to an island of poverty; states that "The Mexican war was fought for no reason but to grab land that would expand slave territory"; and is tactful on the Cuban immigration: "Middle- and upper-class Cubans had the most to lose under Castro, so naturally they were the ones who wanted to emigrate." Except for the relatively prosperous first-wave Cubans, Hispanic Americans find themselves "at the bottom of the job ladder" and have received a "dismal" education here. (For perspective, Meltzer quotes Colin Greer: "The truth is that our public schools have always failed the lower classes—both black and white.") Meltzer describes the wretched conditions of farm workers, somewhat alleviated by the union movement, that are better known to YA readers, and the effective slave labor system that traps illegals. He emphasizes that the Hispanic-American experience is not uniform: In New York, Hispanic-Americans have revitalized Jackson Heights, where newsstands sell papers from Bogota, Buenos Aires, Guayaquil, and Santo Domingo; yet in Spanish Harlem, an older Puerto Rican community, "the people live poorly." Their very numbers make their problems urgent: one in four New Yorkers is of Hispanic origin, as is 28 percent of the Los Angeles population and 40 percent of Miami's; and this group is growing nearly four times as fast as that of all others in the nation. To these facts and descriptions Meltzer adds an earnest chapter, similar to that in his Chinese Americans (1981), on the folly and evils of racial stereotypes and discrimination. He ends with the example of San Antonio's Chicano mayor, elected in 1981, and the hope that Hispanic-Americans can overcome the obstacles to organizing for political action. Essential. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1981

The next thing to slave labor, Chinese workers were imported by the thousands to build the Western end of the transcontinental railroad. They were paid less than whites and worked longer hours (twelve a day), were forcibly prevented from leaving and exposed to avalanches, explosives, and other dangers which killed 1200 (ten percent) of them during the project. California law denied citizenship, protection, and schooling to Chinese and other "inferior races"; white workers beat and killed them (unaware, Meltzer explains, that unity would better serve their interest); and later US laws denied citizenship to the Chinese and forbade both immigration of wives (and others) and intermarriage. Meltzer reveals all this with proper force and a minimum of the unnecessary adjectives used by Von der Grun (below) to describe the Nazi measures much of it brings to mind. Meltzer's own memories of childhood rhymes (of the "chinky chinky chinaman" variety) occasions a patient lecture on racial stereotypes in very simple terms before he takes Chinese American history up to today's sweatshops and tongs and the need, again, for alliance with others working for equality. Written for easy assimilation, but with no loss of impact and a contained indignation that gives it an edge over other entries at this level. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 9, 1980

Meltzer surveys the history of slavery from ancient times, pointing out that it has existed on all continents (in Africa before Europeans got involved) but in most societies was considered a matter of poor luck rather than inferior birth. He sees racism here developing as an excuse for slavery among free people dedicated to the rights of man. He tells readers that slavery exists today in some underdeveloped parts of the world "where people are hungry, ignorant, and without a voice in government." However, his discussion of how we can get rid of slavery emphasizes laws against it and mentions that richer nations helping poorer nations "could make a difference too"—which doesn't come close to addressing the issues. As a history, though, this younger, easier summary clearly benefits from the author's having researched and thought out the subject for his substantial two-volume Slavery (1972). Here that information is neither condensed nor skimmed, but assimilated into a strong introduction that makes its points unemotionally with descriptions and examples. Fisher's illustrations, on the other hand, are bowed with portent. How-ever, the somber subject can absorb them. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1979

With the strength and specificity that is missing from the Loeschers' Human Rights (p. 333, J-43), Meltzer takes a sober look at human rights violations in today's world. On the formal establishment of rights to be respected worldwide, he quotes Columbia University philosopher Charles Frankel to the effect that "rights" not deliverable—such as many included in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child—are only aspirations, and that listing them makes the concept of inviolable rights less serious. Meltzer notes the socialist countries' emphasis on economic and social rights and the Third World's concern for the right to survival, but his chief interest is in totalitarian regimes' violation of the individual human freedom and dignity held precious in democracies. Torture and censorship get specific attention, as do the particular forms of oppression practiced in Argentina, Indonesia, South Africa, and the Soviet Union. Human rights violations here at home are seen chiefly as imperfections in practice, and the last word goes to Professor Frankel on the basic virtue of our system. As for American companies' presence in South Africa and our government's support of dictatorial regimes in Iran, Nicaragua, and elsewhere, Meltzer attempts to air all viewpoints, pointing out flaws in official attempts at justification but also the claims of sometimes conflicting goals (such as arms limitation in our relations with the Soviet Union). With texts of several human fights documents appended, a valuable resource. Read full book review >
DOROTHEA LANGE by Milton Meltzer
Released: July 24, 1978

If the Sontag/feminist fix on photography boosts Milton Meltzer's conscientious investigation of Dorothea Lange's life and work, so much the better: she was an instinctive, articulate photographer (who chose her metier before she clicked a shutter) and a major force in establishing the documentary tradition. As Meltzer lays out the evidence, Lange's penetrating Farm Security Administration pictures of migrants and sharecroppers follow naturally from her penchant for photographing people (not, even outside her commercial studio, "forms in nature"); the "desire to be useful" that, in the Depression, drew her into the streets; and a demanding, dissatisfied nature going back to childhood. "I had that sense very early of what was fine and what was mongrel, what was pure and what was corrupted in things, and in workmanship, and in cool, clean thought about something. I had that. I was aware of that." So she observed in the oral-history interviews that Meltzer astutely uses to project her personality and the character of her work. On the other hand, his log of her professional activities (and running battle with FSA boss Roy Stryker over final control of the image) and personal relations (especially the troubled course of her first marriage) is fuller than anyone but a S. Johnson or H. James warrants; and this lack of selectivity, added to earnest, colorless writing, robs the book of biographical drama. But en route, the San Francisco cultural scene comes alive, we see photography grow as "a tool for investigation," and assignments, exhibits, books mite intelligible, interesting shape. Then, out of the mass of minutiae, Lange will suddenly reappear—to say to visiting photographer Robert Frank, on her deathbed: "I just photographed you." Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

While the vivid, first-hand memories of struggle and triumph—of William Zorach, Maurice Hindus, Mary Antin, Abraham Cahan, and others—are the backbone of this sequel to his documentary World of Our Fathers (1974), Meltzer isn't content with celebrating the success stories. These are the immigrant milieux of Remember the Days (also 1974) reexamined in a harsher, sociological light: Meltzer focuses on the pressures toward Americanization that turned Mashkes and Yankels into Marys and Jims and on the process by which, in the words of historian Lucy Dawidowicz, "the freedom to make money became an obsession" for some. He shows how whole villages—and the attendant class conflicts—were often reassembled in American garment businesses, and he celebrates the success of Jewish socialists in organizing labor unions yet still questions whether the factory was in all ways a dramatic improvement over the sweatshop where, as in the factory the work was "more minute, more intense, and more monotonous." Similarly, the reminisces of those who found public education a thrilling opportunity are balanced by the caution that the schools still failed to equalize opportunities for Jews or any other group. And nostalgia for the old Daily Forward—recalled here along with the Yiddish theater and Essex Street cafes—is tempered by a reminder that the Yiddish press developed its own brand of yellow journalism. Although others have drawn on much of the same sources (Karp's Golden Door to America [p. 667, adult] is the most recent and rich), Meltzer's succinct and intelligent commentary can serve, simultaneously, as a popular introduction to the era and a reexamination of the melting pot myths. . . and it could be an agreeable bridge to the more than 75 titles in his well selected bibliography. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

The WPA gave Milton Meltzer his first writing job (in the Theater Project at a life-saving $23.86 a week), so this is an understandably glowing, nostalgic recollection of that agency's accomplishments. While not unmindful of the limitations of government-supported art and the problems of censorship, Meltzer recalls the tremendous strides made by young professionals given the chance to work full-time at their specialties; the program's role in helping talents like Jackson Pollack to survive; and any number of commercially unfeasible projects—the American Guide Series, the Index of American Design, retraining vaudevillians for children's theater—which flourished under its auspices. The defiant, underground opening of The Cradle Will Rock, the company of employees like Richard Wright and Nelson Algren, the vision of administrators like Hallie Flanagan who hoped to build a national theater, are heady memories; they're also a part of our cultural heritage that this compact personalized account will make available to yet another generation. That the worst economic crisis of our nation's history might be remembered as a relative boon to artists (giving them a freedom for which many paid dearly during the McCarthy era) is a multi-layered irony which Meltzer reinforces here with closing statistics on the "starvation diet" of the arts today. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1976

There is of course an extensive literature on the Holocaust, and many readers over twelve would do well to start there with, say, Nora Levin or Elie Wiesel. Surprisingly little has been written specifically for juveniles, and Meltzer says he decided to begin this brief, basic history after reading Henry Friedlander's study of American history textbooks which concluded that the version presented to high school students is "bland, superficial, and misleading." Here, then, Meltzer concentrates on excerpted personal testimony and, extensively, on why more Jews didn't anticipate the Final Solution—why didn't they, or couldn't they flee—and on documenting both the gradual hardening of Nazi policy and the question of resistance—actual fighting in the ghettoes, forests and camps as well as the Orthodox concept of Kiddush Hashem or spiritual sacrifice. Both Meltzer's introduction and his conclusion are relatively weak: Switzer's How Democracy Failed gives a dearer idea of why Nazism took hold; there is little discussion of the fate of Jews outside Germany and Eastern Europe; and a moving but simplistic final chapter states that "Jews everywhere" identified future survival with the State of Israel. Despite these limitations, Meltzer's twin focus on the human tragedy and historical uniqueness of the Holocaust is an appropriate one and fills a need for a factually concise, yet not depersonalized survey. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 13, 1975

Where most books on the immigrant experience tend to concentrate on the accomplishments of notable individuals, Meltzer consistently relates the course of American Jewry to its European roots. Individuals do play a large part in the earlier stages of his narrative — up through the Civil War which was accompanied by a rise in anti-Semitism despite the pro-Union activities of many prominent Jews. However, with the arrival of large numbers of Eastern European Jews (whose heritage Meltzer has examined in his recent, somewhat more mature, World of Our Fathers), his scope broadens. Here, following a brief history of the pogroms, are sketches of the Lower East Side community — the sweatshop and the rise of unionism, the public schools which routinely "Americanized" at the same time as they satisfied the hunger for learning, the Yiddish theatre and the all-important socializing role of the Jewish Daily Forward. These are only glimpses, but telling ones of an era when the "pent-up energy" of many oppressed generations began to free itself. And, combined here with Meltzer's attempt to promote better understanding between blacks and Jews, they make an easy to read introduction, on a far higher plane of social sensitivity than most series-spawned celebrations of the melting pot. Strong, sensitive charcoal drawings by Harvey Dinnerstein. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1974

This survey of Eastern European Jewry was prompted by Meltzer's desire to investigate the background his immigrant parents never talked about. As Meltzer reads neither Yiddish nor Hebrew, the result is, predictably, a montage of impressions excerpted from such standard English works as Zborowski and Herzog's Life is With People, Chamofsky's Jewish Life in the Ukraine, I.L. Peretz' Memoirs, and I.J. Singer's novels. Yet the book — which ends up focusing on the 19th century shtetl of Russian-Polish Jews — possesses the virtue of eschewing sentimentality about that hard and dirty life. Meltzer also sketches with detachment the split between the Hasidic mystics and various opponents who wanted to merge Judaism with the Enlightenment, as well as the origins of the Bund and Zionism. A well made introduction for those who need a bridge to the standard works Meltzer introduces. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1974

This is not another history from the Mexican or Mexican-American viewpoint, but a study of how the war with Mexico grew out of the spirit of Manifest Destiny and the conflict between anti-and pro-slavery forces. Using songs, political cartoons and extensive quotations from newspaper editorials and political speeches, Meltzer shows how Polk won the presidency by combining support for the claim to all of Oregon as far north as the 54th parallel, a. cause which was especially favored in the anti-slavery north, with southern support for the annexation of Texas. Polk then proceeded (as is detailed in Walton's Congress and American Foreign Policy, KR, 1972) to settle with the British over Oregon while going to war over Texas. Meltzer devotes some attention to the very fluid political situation in Mexico and to Santa Anna's overconfident strategy, but the primary sources principally reveal the American soldier's disillusionment with the violence, cruelty and bungling of this "most abominable war." In one especially interesting chapter, Meltzer reports on widespread desertion from the American army and on the formation of the San Patricio Battalion, composed of former soldiers (many of them Irish Catholic immigrants) who fought for the Mexican cause in a number of important battles. As always, the Living History format allows for both first-hand views of the much lauded giants of the period — particularly the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay, who compromised himself out of his chance for the White House — and of the average citizen, whether soldier, hopeful settler or abolitionist. And Meltzer draws together a number of critical issues — including slavery, expansionism and the Presidential conduct of foreign policy — which converge to make the Mexican War such an important period in the American past. Read full book review >
UNDERGROUND MAN by Milton Meltzer
Released: Oct. 23, 1972

Jeff Bowen's story is based on the "fragmentary and forgotten memoirs" of a Northern farm boy, briefly a preacher, who was later imprisoned for helping slaves escape from Kentucky. Meltzer draws also from court records, reminiscences of fugitive slaves and abolitionists, and other documents of the pre-Civil War period to create a narrative that is consistently suspenseful as well as historically accurate. Our first glimpse of Jeff as a boy struggling for his father's acceptance gives him dimension as a character which makes his anti-slavery work later all the more compelling. Jeff's accidental first encounter with a runaway, his subsequent dangerous and dramatic rescue missions, his years as a specially marked prisoner are thus true in both historical and fictional terms — and though it's the former aspect that provides the chief interest here, the two are smoothly meshed and discreetly balanced. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 16, 1972

The Seminole War is unique because it combined the goal of Indian removal with a campaign to recapture a large number of escaped slaves — many of whom had chosen a more benevolent bondage under masters from the Civilized Tribes. Meltzer describes the ways of the newly formed Seminole tribe (which was principally a southern offshoot of the Creeks) by calling on the observations of contemporary traveller William Bartram. But while the Seminoles were establishing a unique lifestyle and welcoming large number of former slaves — both as free neighbors and as bondsmen — Congress was beginning to debate the annexation of Florida because, as Henry Clay said, "It fills a space in our imagination." Some of the war's background, including Tecumseh's call to arms and the tactics practiced by the whites in obtaining treaties, will be familiar to those who've read about the Cherokees' removal from Georgia; and the rhetoric of the war's supporters, who renamed bloodhounds "peace hounds" and opined in congressional debates that "we should not stop to inquire whether your war was just or unjust. . .We should hold it to be out country's cause. . .", has a tragically contemporary ring. As usual, Meltzer's strength lies in his conscientious crediting of his sources, his ability to select apt quotations from primary materials, and his talent for illuminating personalities without undue fictionalization. This dramatic, self-contained case study brings the researches of John K. Mahon (History of the Seminole War, 1967) and the earlier studies of Kenneth Porter on Seminole-black relationships before a popular audience. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1972

A passionate, far ranging defense of the Fifth Amendment protection of the right to remain silent which goes back to the origins of its systematic violation during the inquisition (where the self-incriminating confession served as both the charge and the proof of guilt) and its gradual establishment as a principle of English common law through the struggles of political prisoners such as leveler John Lilbourne. Meltzer extends his examination of the right on through the nonpolitical applications of the Miranda and Esposito decisions, defending it as logical and necessary (though hardly sufficient safeguard) against the desire of the police to obtain a confession. Many will be surprised to learn that the much lauded Thomas More was a proponent of the inquisition, and Meltzer's defense of the rights of accused criminals strikes a note of welcome sanity (he does not deny the need for law and order, but suggests other methods of achieving it). Meltzer presents the historical evidence and often relies on his readers to draw the correct conclusions from excerpted testimony; still he covers a lot of ground and those who are able to keep up with him should be well rewarded. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 13, 1970

The one solid, unassailable accomplishment of this book is to set forth the achievements of the black-supported Republican state government and black officeholders on the state and local levels between 1870 and 1873; as a history of Reconstruction, however, it is emotional and partisan, fuller of blame than of sober, discriminating assessment. Omitted from the impressionistic tableau are the very limitations to the Emancipation Proclamation that the Thirteenth Amendment rectified and the absolute necessity for Congress to give the blacks votes to gain ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment; much that was specifically motivated becomes a matter of amorphous pressures. Neither do even the most sympathetic studies of the period substantiate the Claims made for black militance ("Thousands of new revolutionaries like the Gabriels and Denmark Veseys and Nat Turners Of slavery times had fused into a powerful black fist to help crush their oppressors") or slave transformation "almost overnight into makers and doers," "into farmers and businessmen, students and teachers, lawyers and bishops, jurors and judges, sheriffs and senators." That socially and economically life changed very little for the majority is thereby obscured. Obscured also, in a quote, is the revolutionary nature of the expansion of government services beyond their prewar level. On the one hand more is made of Reconstruction than the facts justify; on the other hand, less. And the concentration on oppression, injustice and terror, inarguable per se, overshadows what explanations are offered for both the inception and termination of Reconstruction. There is much drama (there will be pictures too), less enlightenment. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 20, 1969

The depression's rueful plaint is affixed to a graphic, sometimes scorching documentary history of "how it started and why, and what it felt like." The narrative begins in the easy-going '20's (not so easy for farmers or the persistently unemployed), picking up its first eye-witness account in ominous October 1929: Gordon Parks losing his parttime job and leaving school. The crisis mounts: in one-industry towns the long-idle busy themselves with aimless activity (Waltham, Mass.) or tramp fruitlessly from plant to plant (Detroit); women without jobs are virtually without help; bankrupt schools shut down or shorten their terms, and children work in violation of the law (or take to the road); blacks are replaced by whites, often forcibly; professionals are "worth more dead than alive" (except for literary types who take to the simple life). Mr. Meltzer points out that initially fewer than 200,000 were covered by unemployment insurance and emphasizes both the lag in providing relief and the demeaning way ti was handled; he observes also that the depression "hardly nicked the old money." Reports on shelters and shantytowns, on farm activism and union apathy, lead into a cursory discussion of why protest remained peaceful, of why social consciousness rather than socialism was the outcome. Roosevelt's inauguration and quick action end the book but not, the author notes, the depression itself. As viewed by the victims and by writers as diverse as Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Edmund Wilson (and counterpinted by bland quotes from the mass media), the depression hits home, and hurts. Read full book review >
LANGSTON HUGHES by Milton Meltzer
Released: Oct. 14, 1968

"To my mind it is the duty of the younger Negro artist. . . to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspiration of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful!'" That was the twenty-four-year-old Hughes writing in The Nation in 1926 and it is an early sign of an integrity that he maintained throughout his life. Meltzer collaborated twice with the late poet/author, and he offers not only his own recollections of conversations but also the memories of many others who knew the man. Hughes did not have a typical ancestry or childhood (descendant of free men who retained their status, son of a self-exiled lawyer unable to practice in white U.S.A.) and the early household shifts are recounted with a minimum of imputed youthful thoughts. The wanderlust that took him all over the world shades to a slightly bitter tonality in the later years, especially with the increasing objections to his Simple stories. Yet few deny the timeless and still timely appeal, the realistic expression of his poetry; many lines thread this biography, including the refrain (probably inspired by a Du Bois title) from "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" that foreshadows the current preoccupation with "soul." The casual but forceful thrust of his poetry, a recurrent concern for the mulatto, his tremendous versatility, the uncompromising posture are affirmed in a highly sympathetic but nevertheless reliable account of his life. Read full book review >
Released: April 14, 1967

The third and concluding volume keeps up the high standard of the series, again takes testimony from the distinguished and the anonymous dispossessed. Listen to Richard Wright telling how to live as a Negro; the letters of the destitute begging for work in the North; Walter White reporting on a race riot; Marcus Garvey exhorting black nationalism; Langston Hughes "In Love With Harlem" and W. E. B. DuBois scoring with irony. Relive the Depression in case studies of suffering in the cities, among tenant farmers and farm bands; attend the advent of social protest—a strike in New Jersey, unionization in the South, a national youth movement (1938), a proposed March on Washington (A. Philip Randolph 1942). A brief look at the Freedom Movement (the Montgomery bus boycott, voter registration in Mississippi) but the heart of the material is the bitter years that went before, making this unique. A detailed calendar of Negro history and a good brief reading list extend the usefulness of a book that is self-evidently essential. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 1966

The crusty mid-nineteenth century Congressman, a leader in Congressional reconstruction, receives solid treatment in this biography. His private life is quickly summarized: the background data — bleak boyhood in Vermont, spartan school years at Dartmouth, residency in Gettysburg and Lancaster; his personal qualities — generosity to the "old, the poor, the handicapped", refusal to flatter the powerful, talent for making enemies, caustic wit; his peculiarities — club-foot, red-haired wig, and his Negro housekeeper who may or may not have been his mistress. The book focuses on the public and political man, the issues rather than the individual. From his entrance into politics in 1822 to his death in 1868, he participated in the major elections and political movements of the era: the Anti-Masonic League, the Whigs, the Know Nothings, the Free Soilers, and the Republicans. As a lawyer, he defended runaway slaves and the defendants in the Christiana battle. The Dred Scott decision, he said, "'damned Chief Justice Taney to everlasting fame, and, I think, to everlasting fire.'" As a legislator, he was instrumental in the passage of universal free schooling and college appropriations through the Pennsylvania legislature, and the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the reconstruction acts through Congress. He emerges as a man of principles, neither a saint nor a fanatic, capable participant in the dirty and violent politics of the time. He himself said of the Thirteenth Amendment "'the greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America (Lincoln).'" The analysis of people and events is illuminating, but occasionally dull and drawn-out. A useful supplement to Civil War study. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1965

This is the second in this chronologically arranged collection of source materials about the Negro in this country (the first volume was reviewed in 1964, p. 1018, J-332). It puts the current civil rights struggle into perspective. Much of this book consists of first hand reactions to Reconstruction. Many of these comments sound like echoes of the present; many also indicate how sources of controversy have developed which could have been avoided. The idea that Reconstruction was a period of "Negro rule" is particularly disputed by the editor, and he has chosen a number of selections to back up this point. The articles included here are all very readable, revealing, and act together to develop a current of history. As before, there are introductory comments, index, reading list. Read full book review >
Released: April 15, 1965

In her dedication to causes Maria Child's career seems a slightly milder version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's. This is not to say that she was any less fervent in her convictions or less active in promoting her causes, but her views were more open and less revolutionary in their implications. She was not a great thinker or writer but she was a courageous one. Her beliefs are portrayed here with their innuendoes and with their inconsistencies. Primarily she was an abolitionist, but not a militant one, and most of her books and articles dealt with the problems of slavery. For a time she was editor of the Liberator, and was ridiculed both by those who opposed the movement and by those who supported the more incendiary views of the Liberator. She particularly attacked the Northern business men who supported slavery in the South and the covert racism of the "free" states. In this respect the book has particular contemporary interest, for it shows the roots and ramifications of a problem which has only recently been admitted. Maria Child's other interests included religion, from a humanistic stand, and women's rights, which she strongly believed in and exemplified. The book offers some delightful background details, including descriptions of Boston and New York during the mid-nineteenth century. Read full book review >
LIGHT IN THE DARK by Milton Meltzer
Released: Oct. 15, 1964

There seems to have been no humanitarian cause of the 19th century on which Samuel Gridley Howe did not take the unpopular stance. This is to say that he thought the blind could and should be educated; that the insane did not have to be equated with criminals; that slavery should be abolished; and that Negroes once freed, deserved equal rights. He also crusaded against education by corporal punishment and was one of the few Americans to take part in the Greek War of Independence. Younger readers will be most familiar with Howe through the stories of his work with Laura Bridgman, the deaf/blind girl he successfully taught at Perkins Institute in Massachusetts. His lifelong contempt for money and his undiminishing zeal for every idealistic cause will make him a subject for reader-identification at this level. This biography was carefully researched and written so that a life of adventurous ideas reads with as such verve as any career on the battlefield. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1963

Milton Meltzer, who edited A Thoreau Profile (see p. 1023, 1962) with Walter Harding, here presents Thoreau in his own words as a social thinker. There are more than 100 excerpts from his journals and letters from 1837 to 1859. Reprinted in full are: "Paradise (To Be) Regained", comments on Etzler's Utopia ("a transcendantalism in mechanics"), Chapter Two of Walden, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For" ("Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"); "Slavery in Massachusetts", printed in the New York Tribune in 1854; "A Plea for Captain John Brown" in 1859 and "The Last Days of John Brown" in 1860; and "Life Without Principle", printed in 1863, seventeen months after Thoreau's death, in the Atlantic Monthly ("Read not the Times. Read The Eternities."). There are words for abolitionist Rogers; for Wendell Phillips and Walt Whitman. Aside from selection, the editor contributes a minimum of orientation. The result is a collection which for the alert reader gives Thoreau's views on the role of the government and the governed (the seeds to Gandhi's passive resistance are here), on religion, on business and urban life, on the state and needs of the individual in society. f reference value, with potential interest for students of politics everywhere. Read full book review >
A THOREAU PROFILE by Milton Meltzer
Released: Nov. 25, 1962

Yet another volume about Thoreau on the centennial anniversary of his death brings us a firm, well-fixed portrait of the man. The profile reveals Thoreau at all periods of his life, in his life, in his home-setting and the infrequent sallies forth from his beloved Concord (to Harvard to get his education, to Staten Island to teach, to Fire Island to seek Margaret Fuller Ossoli's body, to the Maine Woods and Cape Cod and finally in a vain effort to improve his health to the Minnesota woods). The words chosen are his own ("Says I to Myself", his journal, provides insight on writing and nature; excerpts from Walden and "The Last Days of John Brown" show his mature style and social outlook) and those of famed contemporaries (Josiah Quincy remarked on his seeming indifference at Harvard, George Eliot retrospectively reviewed Walden, Emerson said at his grave "He had a beautiful soul"). The pitch of intellectual life at Concord, singular in time and place when Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Channing intermingled — and the timbre of Thoreau's incorruptible individualism whether as student, teacher, lecturer, surveyor, traveller, writer — come through clearly. A chronology of life, works, list of mss. collections and for the tourist four tours through Concord conclude a book less exciting and provocative than The Thoughts of Thoreau (p. 955, 1962) but for its historical neatness a solid contribution. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1960

A feast for the Mark Twain fans, and a fitting commemoration of this, his 100th anniversary year. Read it for the many-faceted portrait of the man in all his roles that emerges from the lovingly prepared text. Meltzer has skillfully woven together a running commentary, chronological in essence, into which he has inserted extracts from a generous variety of Mark Twain's own writings. The result is virtually a biography- done in a different way - as it treats of his boyhood, his early apprenticeship as a printer, his introduction to river life as a child- and his education as a pilot. You learn about his homes, his schools and teachers and schoolmates; you meet the originals of Tom Sawyer, of Huckleberry Finn, of Becky Thatcher, of Aunt Polly (his mother); you visit with him and his cousins at his uncle's farm; you learn of the activities and entertainment in a Missouri small town. Sam Clemens had an itching heel- and his travelling began early and took him from coast to coast and often to Europe. He wrote to finance his trips- and various of his travel letters and journalistic pieces have found immortality between book covers. Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, Innocents Abroad- all grew out of his passion for going places and seeing things- and people. His marriage stabilized all this- to some extent- and a happy marriage and family life it was, despite many sorrows and losses that came to him, his only son, usy, Livy (his wife) and finally Jean. His career as a writer, as a lecturer, encompassed the major years of his life- and all this is followed in this abundant text. And then there are the pictures:- daguerreotypes, tintypes, sketches (some of his own), photographs, old prints, cartoons, reprints of broadsides, posters, news notes, clippings, letters — much of the material never before used and totalling an incredible 500 and more. A bonanza! Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1956

" Clear historical perspective on an easy-reading level. Recent Life article may direct interest."
Coverage of the life of the Negro in the United States from pre-revolutionary days to the present provides a straight-forward text along with some 1000 illustrations from prints, engravings, woodcuts, photographs, paintings. Read full book review >

Noted social historian/author Meltzer tackles an overwhelming task describing today's broad range of criminal behavior. While many think of crime as violence, really big criminal activity does not occur face-to-face, says Meltzer. Over $174 billion in corporate crime is perpetrated annually—from manufacturers releasing cars with known defects to military officials charging $7,000 for a coffee-maker; from insider Wall Street trading to laundering mob money. Sporting more numbers than in most of his books, Meltzer targets how addiction, greed, learning disabilities, poverty, drugs, and the role of media in the increase of aggression fit together in the patchwork of crime. Objective yet impassioned, Meltzer's survey should make readers "mad" in several senses: hot-and-bothered angry; frenzied with frustration or hoplessness. Though he lists remedies available to ordinary citizens, when corporate executives steal apple juice from babies it's hard not to be distrustful. Read full book review >

A thematic survey of recent US history, with passages from contemporary observers and participants briefly introduced and arranged under nine rubrics: the cold war; Korea and Vietnam; civil rights; immigrants and refugees; the rising tide of environmental consciousness, etc. The extracts are generally well chosen, though some are more effective than others: Elizabeth Eckford's terror-filled first day at Little Rock's Central High in 1957 and Hank Thomas's experiences as a Freedom Rider are vividly described; but excerpts from Michael Harrington's The Other America and Carson's Silent Spring, however impassioned, are too general to excite much response. Meltzer considers both the recent roots of each movement and its status in the 80's, introducing related issues when they might be appropriate: e.g., a heterosexual woman with AIDS tells her story in the chapter on feminism. The particular selections seem aimed less at balancing opinions than at capturing the feeling of being there. Uneven, but a horizon-broadener for readers already well grounded in recent history. Read full book review >

As always, Meltzer is a careful historian who looks for the documentable troth behind prevalent generalizations, and his generous use of quotations from primary sources make the narrative both more interesting and more illuminating than the ambitious scope might indicate. Read full book review >

Some documentary material reflecting aspects of American Jewish history—but, as an entity, less coherent or substantial than Meltzer's various earlier books on the subject. A handful of selections show Jews confronting historical anti-Semitism: Asser Levy's appeal to the New Amsterdam authorities for the Jews' "burgher rights"; the protest of three Paducah, Ky., Jews, to Lincoln, against Grant's order expelling Jews from the Tennessee district; a rabbi's memoir of bucking Klan agitation in 1920s Indiana. A considerable number, especially of early date, attest to Jewish participation in mainstream American events—the Revolution (a patriot, a Tory), the Mexican War, Western settlement, the Gold Rush. Also of this ilk are Ernestine Rose's 1832 feminist speech and August Bondi's recollection of John Brown. A very few derive, without Meltzer's precisely saying so, from particularly Jewish union or radical activity (Rose Schneiderman's Triangle Fire speech, Emma Goldman's protest against deportation). The largest number, however, are snippets of Jewish life. Haym Solomon (1783) tells an uncle, in Europe, "it is not in my power to give you or any relations yearly allowances." Harry Roskolenko recalls his first visit to the sweatshop where his father worked ("When the foreman laughed, everybody laughed. . ."); Mary Antin recalls her father's euphoria on the first day of school. These are classics of immigrant autobiography—and so is Maurice Hindus' awe at "the decorative and juice-soaked tomato," and other things American, or Charles Angoff's memory of his father's disdain for just such American things. The chronicles of more recent times mainly commemorate salient experiences (a Jewish G.I. at Buchenwald, an Auschwitz survivor, an American kibbutznik) and have little individual flavor. Not an especially auspicious group, then, or in any single way outstanding-except for some of those vivid and affecting immigrant impressions. Read full book review >

The first of the Zenith Books to be reviewed in this section, which aim "to present the history of minority groups in the United States and their participation in the growth and development of the country and will consist of histories and biographies written by leading historians in collaboration with established writers for young people." The evident readership at which the Books are directed is the minority group members themselves (adult as well as young adult), to give them an increased awareness of their own heritage; at the same time the Books are intended for others to develop an understanding and appreciation of that heritage. Time of Trial, Time of Hope, soundly written in swift-paced prose that is a pleasure to read, is a valuable addition in an uneven series. It moves from the return of the Negro soldiers of the 369th Infantry from France in 1919 to Harlem, to the Negro March on Washington in 1940 to demand the abolition of discrimination in all government departments, the army, navy, air corps and national defense jobs on the eve of World War II. It goes into the causes of the Great Migration and the Great Depression, describes the gains on artistic, political, labor fronts—the Negro Renaissance, the New Deal "Black Cabinet," the CIO breakthrough. The price and the product make this a good buy, an approach to the literate unreached. Read full book review >