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10 Classics That Never Get Old

WORKING

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY AND HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT THEY DO

There is hardly an interviewer, commentator or probing journalist among us who can elicit so much grief and passion, so many forlorn hopes and decayed dreams, so much of the tedium and frustration of daily existence from his subjects as Studs Terkel.

Subjects? Hardly. Talking casually, sometimes disjointedly and hesitantly, or unleashing long suppressed feelings in an angry torrent, these are not clinical case studies but complex, fully human people whose humdrum reminiscences of long hours, days and years on the job are almost painfully involving. Even their laughter, abrupt and nervous, will make you wince because in Terkel's words, "This book, being about work is, by it's very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body." "You're nothing more than a machine. . . . They give better care to that machine than they will to you. They'll have more respect, give more attention to that machine," says the twenty-seven year-old spot welder at Ford. "I'm a mule," says the steelworker. Nor is the sense of waste and futility confined to blue-collar workers. Terkel talks to shipping clerks and sports figures, copy boys, hospital aides, salesmen, press agents, a doorman, a barber, a fireman, a cop, a pharmacist, a piano tuner, a stockbroker, a gravedigger...and yes, there is a common chord. Pride, the pride of craftsmanship is harder and harder to sustain; the old work ethic seems to many like a dirty trick. Strikingly, the only people who seem genuinely to exult in their work are those who deal directly and intimately with other people—like the Brooklyn fireman who muses, "You see them give mouth-to-mouth when a guy's dying. You can't get around that shit. That's real. To me, that's what I want to be."

For the rest, Terkel finds "the desperation is unquiet" and here, at least, it's eloquent.

Pub Date: March 28, 1974

ISBN: 1565843428

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1974

BLACK BOY

A RECORD OF CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH

This autobiography might almost be said to supply the roots to Wright's famous novel, Native Son.

It is a grim record, disturbing, the story of how — in one boy's life — the seeds of hate and distrust and race riots were planted. Wright was born to poverty and hardship in the deep south; his father deserted his mother, and circumstances and illness drove the little family from place to place, from degradation to degradation. And always, there was the thread of fear and hate and suspicion and discrimination — of white set against black — of black set against Jew — of intolerance. Driven to deceit, to dishonesty, ambition thwarted, motives impugned, Wright struggled against the tide, put by a tiny sum to move on, finally got to Chicago, and there — still against odds — pulled himself up, acquired some education through reading, allied himself with the Communists — only to be thrust out for non-conformity — and wrote continually. The whole tragedy of a race seems dramatized in this record; it is virtually unrelieved by any vestige of human tenderness, or humor; there are no bright spots. And yet it rings true. It is an unfinished story of a problem that has still to be met.

Perhaps this will force home unpalatable facts of a submerged minority, a problem far from being faced.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 1945

ISBN: 0061130249

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1945

THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST

James Thurber once remarked that "we live in a time when in the moth-proof closet dwells the moth." It is a good lesson and could easily be the text for Halberstam's dazzling account of how some of the best and brightest men of our time—John F. Kennedy, Walt Whitman Rostow, the Bundy brothers, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, numerous other political illuminati of the '60's—were chewed up, some beyond mending, by a little moth named Vietnam.

It's a moth who ate so much so voraciously and so sneakily that he grew to be an unmanageable creature of monstrous proportions, capable of toppling presidents, visiting holocaust on an entire area of the world, and sucking dry the moral viscera of the great nation Amurrica. How did the moth do it? How was he able to chomp up and ingest everything in the Washington closet right under the collective perspicacity of the brainiest individuals to serve in government since the New Deal? Weren't these men educated at the swellest schools? Wasn't Rusk a Rhodes Scholar? Didn't Rostow write books which set even the Cambridge elite on its fabulous behind? Didn't such an oracle as Walter Lippmann him-self recommend McGeorge Bundy as Secretary of State? Hadn't they all learned at Groton and other Ivy way stations "what washes and what does not wash"? And, yes, wasn't it also true that even Lyndon B. Johnson, who became the hungry moth's favorite dish, was one of the nouveau best and brightest, notwithstanding Pedernales origins and San Marcos State Teachers College vita? All true, but the bug continued to gnaw the fabric—relentlessly. "Lyndon Johnson had lost it all, and so had the rest of them; they had, for all their brilliance and hubris and sense of themselves, been unwilling to look to and learn from the past...swept forward by their belief in the importance of anti-Communism (and the dangers of not paying sufficient homage to it)."

Halberstam's conclusions are not original—see Daniel Ellsberg's "Stalemate Machine" fueled by the "lesson of China" in Papers on the War—but his ability to interrelate the decisions and the policy-making processes with the makers' personalities and intellectual biases results in a tour de force of contemporary political journalism.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1972

ISBN: 0449908704

Page Count: 724

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972

SPEAK

A frightening and sobering look at the cruelty and viciousness that pervade much of contemporary high school life, as real as today’s headlines. At the end of the summer before she enters high school, Melinda attends a party at which two bad things happen to her. She gets drunk, and she is raped. Shocked and scared, she calls the police, who break up the party and send everyone home. She tells no one of her rape, and the other students, even her best friends, turn against her for ruining their good time. By the time school starts, she is completely alone, and utterly desolate. She withdraws more and more into herself, rarely talking, cutting classes, ignoring assignments, and becoming more estranged daily from the world around her. Few people penetrate her shell; one of them is Mr. Freeman, her art teacher, who works with her to help her express what she has so deeply repressed. When the unthinkable happens—the same upperclassman who raped her at the party attacks her again’something within the new Melinda says no, and in repelling her attacker, she becomes whole again. The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-37152-0

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

EAST OF EDEN

Tremendous in scope—tremendous in depth of penetration—and as different a Steinbeck as the Steinbeck of Burning Bright was from the Steinbeck of The Grapes of Wrath.

Here is no saga of the underprivileged—no drama of social significance. Tenderness, which some felt was inherent in everything Steinbeck wrote, is muted almost to the vanishing point in this story of conflict within character, impact of character on character, of circumstances on personalities, of the difficult acceptance of individual choice as against the dominance of inherited traits. The philosophy is intimately interwoven with the pace of story, as he follows-from New England to California over some fifty odd years-the two families which hold stage center. There are the Trasks, brothers in two generations, strangely linked, strangely at war the one with the other; there are the Hamiltons (John Steinbeck's own forebears), a unique Irish born couple, the man an odd lovable sort of genius who never capitalizes on his ideas for himself, the tiny wife, tart, cold-and revealing now and again unexpected gentleness of spirit, the burgeoning family, as varied a tribe as could be found. And- on the periphery but integral to the deepening philosophy which motivates the story, there is the wise Chinese servant scholar and gentleman, who submerges his own goals to identify himself wholly with the needs of the desolate Adam Trask, crushed by his soulless wife's desertion, and the twin boys, Cal, violent, moody, basically strong enough to be himself—and Aron, gentle, unwilling to face disagreeable facts, beloved by all who met him. In counterpoint, the story follows too the murky career of Adam's wife, Cathy—who came to him from a mysteriously clouded past, and returned to a role for which she was suited—as a costly whore, and later as Madame in Salinas most corrupt "house," where the perversions of sex ridden males were catered to—and cruelty capitalized upon.

Shock techniques applied with rapier and not bludgeon will rule the book out for the tender-skinned. But John Steinbeck, the philosopher, dominates his material and brings it into sharply moral focus.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 1952

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1952

Certain to create interest, comment, and consideration.

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR

The Book-of-the-Month Club dual selection, with John Gunther's Behind the Curtain (1949), for July, this projects life under perfected state controls.

It presages with no uncertainty the horrors and sterility, the policing of every thought, action and word, the extinction of truth and history, the condensation of speech and writing, the utter subjection of every member of the Party. The story concerns itself with Winston, a worker in the Records Department, who is tormented by tenuous memories, who is unable to identify himself wholly with Big Brother and The Party. It follows his love for Julia, who also outwardly conforms, inwardly rebels, his hopefulness in joining the Brotherhood, a secret organization reported to be sabotaging The Party, his faith in O'Brien, as a fellow disbeliever, his trust in the proles (the cockney element not under the organization) as the basis for an overall uprising. But The Party is omniscient, and it is O'Brien who puts him through the torture to cleanse him of all traitorous opinions, a terrible, terrifying torture whose climax, keyed to Winston's most secret nightmare, forces him to betray even Julia. He emerges, broken, beaten, a drivelling member of The Party. Composed, logically derived, this grim forecasting blueprints the means and methods of mass control, the techniques of maintaining power, the fundamentals of political duplicity, and offers as arousing a picture as the author's previous Animal Farm.

Certain to create interest, comment, and consideration.

Pub Date: June 13, 1949

ISBN: 0452284236

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1949

It’s slanted toward action-oriented readers, who will find that Briticisms meld with all the other wonders of magic school.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE

From the Harry Potter series , Vol. 1

In a rousing first novel, already an award-winner in England, Harry is just a baby when his magical parents are done in by Voldemort, a wizard so dastardly other wizards are scared to mention his name.

So Harry is brought up by his mean Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley, and picked on by his horrid cousin Dudley. He knows nothing about his magical birthright until ten years later, when he learns he’s to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts is a lot like English boarding school, except that instead of classes in math and grammar, the curriculum features courses in Transfiguration, Herbology, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry becomes the star player of Quidditch, a sort of mid-air ball game. With the help of his new friends Ron and Hermione, Harry solves a mystery involving a sorcerer’s stone that ultimately takes him to the evil Voldemort. This hugely enjoyable fantasy is filled with imaginative details, from oddly flavored jelly beans to dragons’ eggs hatched on the hearth.

It’s slanted toward action-oriented readers, who will find that Briticisms meld with all the other wonders of magic school. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-590-35340-3

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER

A strange and powerful book, standing quite apart from anything I can recall.

The scene is a small Southern mill town; the central figure is a mute, a quiet, tolerant man to whom four people turn to express their individual hopes and beliefs. His very silence endows him in their eyes with a godlike quality; his human fallibilities are shut within his silence. There is a Negro doctor, struggling for the elevation of his race; there is an agitator, trying to show the world the injustices of the capitalistic system; there is an appealing girl of twelve, whose gift for music is frustrated by poverty and ignorance. The close of the book is confessed defeat for all.

Direct, uncompromising, a distinguished piece of writing whose very subject matter will make it almost impossible to sell.

Pub Date: June 4, 1940

ISBN: 0618526412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1940

Taylor trusts to her material and doesn't try to inflate Cassie's role in these events, and though the strong, clear-headed...

ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY

At first Cassie Logan and her brothers, a year or so older than they were in the much briefer, Song of the Trees, (1975) are only dimly aware of rumors that two men have been killed and one badly burned by a white mob.

Then Mary, their mother, tries to organize a boycott against the Wallaces, the local storeowners and instigators of the violence, and Logan land and lives are put on the line. Cassie's own spirit is demonstrated straight off, on the first day of the school year, when she refuses to accept a schoolbook labeled "condition—very poor, race of student—nigra." Like her parents, Cassie learns that she must pick her shots carefully to survive, and she takes pains to learn a few blackmail-level secrets from her special tormentor, Miz Lillian Jean, before giving the older girl a good thrashing. Tragically though, brother Stacey's friend T.J. who isn't so careful, starts hanging around with the Wallace boys and winds up facing a lynch mob after they talk him into helping them rob a store. Although the Logans, whose ownership of desirable farmland has made them a target of white persecution, live in a virtual state of siege, and even after Papa sets fire to his own cotton to divert the attention of the mob from T.J., the story ends unmelodramatically not far from where it began—after a string of hard-fought victories and as many bitter defeats and with the money for the next tax payment on the land still not in sight.

Taylor trusts to her material and doesn't try to inflate Cassie's role in these events, and though the strong, clear-headed Logan family is no doubt an idealization, their characters are drawn with quiet affection and their actions tempered with a keen sense of human fallibility.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1976

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2647-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1976

This first fantastic installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy propels readers along with horror and high adventure, a...

THE GOLDEN COMPASS

Pullman (The Tin Princess, 1994, etc.) returns to the familiar territory of Victorian England, but this time inhabits an alternate Earth, where magic is an ordinary fact of life.

Lyra Belacqua and her daemon familiar Pantalaimon spend their days teasing the scholars of Jordan College until her uncle, Lord Asriel, announces that he's learned of astonishing events taking place in the far north involving the aurora borealis. When Lyra rescues Asriel from an attempt on his life, it is only the beginning of a torrent of events that finds Lyra willingly abducted by the velvet Mrs. Coulter, a missionary of pediatric atrocities; a journey with gyptian clansmen to rescue the children who are destined to be severed from their daemons (an act that is clearly hideous); and Lyra's discovery of her unusual powers and destiny. Lyra may suffer from excessive spunk, but she is thorough, intelligent, and charming. The author's care in recreating Victorian speech affectations never hinders the action; copious amounts of gore will not dissuade the squeamish, for resonating at the story's center is the twinkling image of a celestial city.

This first fantastic installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy propels readers along with horror and high adventure, a shattering tale that begins with a promise and delivers an entire universe. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 978-0-679-87942-4

Page Count: 397

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1996

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