A master scholar delivers a delightfully stimulating historical polemic.

THE POLITICIANS AND THE EGALITARIANS

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS

A stern, thoroughly satisfying harangue on the realities of politics in the United States by the veteran, prizewinning historian.

Wilentz (American History/Princeton Univ.; Bob Dylan in America, 2010, etc.) emphasizes that two key factors of politics, ignored by lesser historians, are essential. The first—sure to jolt even educated readers—is that partisanship and party politics are essential to effective government. The Founding Fathers deplored it, and today’s presidential candidates assure us that they detest career politicians. Reformers denounce them, and Americans “want government conducted in a lofty manner, without adversarial confrontation and chaos. But more than two hundred years of antipartisanship has produced nothing,” writes the author. “This is because, despite their intentions, the framers built a political system which inspired partisan politics.” The second factor—less controversial but no less surprising—is that Americans hate economic privilege. Everyone agrees that vast material inequality threatens democracy. The author argues that the fight for racial and sexual equality during the 1960s and ’70s made that period an anomaly, and the conservative swing begun by President Ronald Reagan obscured it, but it returned with a vengeance after the economic crash of 2008. Conservatives today place less emphasis on moral arguments for a free market in favor of claiming that cutting taxes and government will provide jobs and eliminate poverty. Never shy about scolding colleagues, Wilentz maintains that the vogue of denigrating Thomas Jefferson has gone overboard, but he joins in the revival of the reputations of Thomas Paine and Lyndon Johnson. The author deplores the current fashion for giving idealistic outsiders credit for forcing crass politicians to do the right thing. Abolitionists did not compel Abraham Lincoln to promote emancipation, and Johnson supported civil rights long before he took office.

A master scholar delivers a delightfully stimulating historical polemic.

Pub Date: May 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-28502-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Beautifully organized and accessibly presented history for all readers.

AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS

A CONTINENTAL HISTORY, 1750-1804

A clear, authoritative, well-organized look at the messy Colonial march toward revolution and self-rule.

In this broad history, eminent historian Taylor (History/Univ. of Virginia; The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, 2013, etc.), who has won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Bancroft Prize, underscores the myriad complex facets to the rebellion against British authority starting in the mid-18th century, especially the westward thrust to settle newly won Indian territory. Between 1754 and 1763, at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, the British and their colonists had conquered French Canada and claimed the West as far as the Mississippi River. The colonists naturally assumed they would “share in the imperial fruits of victory,” but instead, the British authorities aimed to exert greater control over the Colonies, restricting speculation west of the Appalachians by proclamation and extracting much-needed revenue from them to pay for the costly war. Considering themselves “free-born Englishmen,” the colonists hoped for a great partnership with the mother country, but they were treated as “distant and wayward inferiors.” Compounding the tension, notes the author, was the vacuum of civil government left by the British in the lands to the West between restive Colonial settlers and the resentful Indians. Taylor superbly emphasizes the key role of slaves in the revolutionary period—namely, the contradiction of the colonists’ claiming the language of liberty while possessing slaves (to the ridicule by Britons)—and the role of women in spurring and aiding the rebels. Moreover, the author impressively relays the sense of torn loyalties and how the revolutionary associations empowered the common man to step up and participate. He moves through the Revolution itself to the complicated aftermath of partisan politics, exacerbated by the global conflict ignited by the French Revolution. His final chapters on “Partisans” and “Legacies” delineate the first sticky political schisms and the vast postwar challenges in terms of culture, gender, race, and economy.

Beautifully organized and accessibly presented history for all readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-08281-4

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

A beautifully rendered work wrought with enormous care and sense of compassionate dignity.

MIDNIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT

A JAPANESE AMERICAN FAMILY CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

An intimately detailed look at the agony of a Japanese-American family struggling to maintain American loyalty amid discrimination and war.

Historian and teacher Sakamoto weaves a richly textured narrative history of the Fukuhara family, who moved from Hiroshima to Auburn, Washington, in 1926. However, financial issues after the death of the father forced them to move back in 1933. Somewhat typically at the time, the family was made up of the first-generation immigrants—businessman Katsuji and homemaker Kinu—and their five American-born children. The two eldest, Mary and Victor, were sent back to Hiroshima to help their aunt in her lucrative candy-making business, then subsequently returned to the U.S. as teenagers, culturally confused kibei whose English had been mostly forgotten. Harry, the spirited middle son and the one most thoroughly Americanized, was not happy about the move back to Japan, though his five-year stay allowed him the language immersion that would be invaluable during World War II, when, interned with his sister Mary at the Gila River Relocation Center, Arizona, in the fall of 1942, he was plucked by the Army for intelligence translation in the Pacific theater. The Japanese-speaking author offers fascinating research into the lives of these conflicted immigrants. At the time, Japanese-American youth who served in the Japanese army automatically relinquished their American citizenship, which Harry, by moving back to the U.S. at age 18, refused to do, unlike his other brothers. The specter of the atomic bomb hovers ominously over the narrative, and while most of the Hiroshima family managed to survive, the physical and psychological scarring were gruesome and lasting. American soldier Harry’s resolution to return to Japan in October 1945 to find his family forms a poignant closure to this remarkable tale.

A beautifully rendered work wrought with enormous care and sense of compassionate dignity.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-235193-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

A first-rate history filled with revealing incidents and informed analysis.

WAGING WAR

THE CLASH BETWEEN PRESIDENTS AND CONGRESS, 1776 TO ISIS

A 1st Circuit Court of Appeals judge chronicles the centurieslong push/pull between the executive and the legislative branches over the conduct of America’s wars.

The proposed Constitution designated the president as the commander in chief but reserved for Congress the authority to declare war and to raise an armed force. Notwithstanding assurances from the likes of Alexander Hamilton, patriots George Mason and Patrick Henry refused to support ratification. Almost 200 years later, historian Arthur Schlesinger, who spent his professional career cheerleading on behalf of an energetic executive, reversed himself, chiding a supine Congress for allowing a succession of presidential exercises of military force so consequential they threatened to remake “all aspects of the modern presidency.” Today, most everyone recognizes the folly, as William Howard Taft once observed, of permitting Congress to try, “as the people of Athens attempted, to carry out campaigns by votes in the market-place.” At the same time, few believe decisions about war belong solely to the president. Drawing on numerous episodes from our history, Barron (co-author: City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation, 2008) fleshes out the back and forth between the branches, the elaborate mix of constitutional and statutory law, politics, and popular opinion that shapes decisions about how the country wages war. In smoothly readable prose, with a sure grasp of the big picture, the author addresses such issues as the treatment of enemy prisoners under Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and George W. Bush; FDR’s adroit advocacy of Lend-Lease, which Attorney General Robert Jackson helped engineer, and Harry Truman’s wartime seizure of the steel mills, which Justice Robert Jackson censured; James Buchanan’s deference to Congress as Civil War approached versus Lincoln’s startling assumption of authority in Fort Sumter’s immediate aftermath; congressional acts, resolutions, and amendments designed to rein in presidents from Andrew Johnson to Nixon; presidents Madison and McKinley, virtually stampeded into battle by an aroused Congress; and presidents Adams and Jefferson, who strenuously avoided ruinous wars under similar pressure.

A first-rate history filled with revealing incidents and informed analysis.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8197-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

Featuring excellent characterization and exquisite detail concerning a theater of the war (Norway) not well-mined, this will...

THE WINTER FORTRESS

THE EPIC MISSION TO SABOTAGE HITLER’S ATOMIC BOMB

An exciting, thorough account of how Norwegian resistance, with help from the British, scuttled Nazi attempts to build an atomic program.

The steady focus of this suspenseful work of research by accomplished nonfiction author Bascomb (The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts, 2011, etc.) is Vemork, a Norwegian hydroelectric plant on the Mana River. The author weaves together several strands regarding this top-secret 1943 Norwegian-British mission to dismantle the part of the Vemork power station that was producing heavy water, a severely condensed substance that the Nazi physicists were beginning to understand might help lead to the production of an atomic bomb. Soon after the invasion of Norway by the Nazis in April 1940, Norwegian scientist and professor of atomic chemistry Leif Tronstad, a fervent patriot, caught on to the Germans’ sudden interest in increasing the production of heavy water. Working through the British Secret Intelligence Service, Tronstad was able to direct the commando operation on Vemork from the safe resistance headquarters in London. Bascomb’s intricate story involves two teams of commandos organized under Britain’s Special Operations Executive, both of which dropped into Norway in late 1942: the Grouse team, led by Jens-Anton Poulsson, would act as the advance unit, carrying radios and support, and the Gunnerside team of saboteurs, led by Joachim Rønneberg, would infiltrate the plant at night and perform the delicate demolition before escaping on skis through the snowy valley. Bascomb carefully examines the significance of the plant in the entire scheme of Allied victory as well as the perilous fates of the men and their families. Ultimately, he asks, “if the Germans had fashioned a self-sustaining reactor with heavy water, what then?”

Featuring excellent characterization and exquisite detail concerning a theater of the war (Norway) not well-mined, this will make a terrific addition to World War II collections.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-36805-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Far less edifying than the Constitutional Convention but equally crucial, the colorful machinations of our first Congress...

THE FIRST CONGRESS

HOW JAMES MADISON, GEORGE WASHINGTON, AND A GROUP OF EXTRAORDINARY MEN INVENTED THE GOVERNMENT

While the Constitution outlined the theory of our nation, the obstreperous first Congress converted it to reality. It was not a pretty picture, and popular historian Bordewich (America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union, 2012, etc.) delivers an entertaining description of how “it transmuted the Constitution from a paper charter and a set of hopeful aspirations into the machinery of a functioning government.”

Guns boomed, church bells rang, and crowds cheered in New York on March 4, 1789, as Congress opened, but nothing happened because only a handful of members had arrived. A quorum finally assembled in April. Everyone, including George Washington, deferred to Virginia representative James Madison. Although he was not a good public speaker and was completely uncharismatic, Madison knew everything there was to know about governing, and he used this expertise with great subtlety. Bordewich astutely reminds readers that this Congress had no parties, rules, or traditions. No one knew what the president’s job entailed, including the president himself. There were no executive departments, no supreme or federal courts, a dozen civil servants, and no source of income to pay salaries or the immense national debt. Bitter controversies occurred over slavery, revenue, choosing a permanent capitol, and a national bank but, oddly, not over the hallowed Bill of Rights. Madison considered Constitutional amendments unnecessary and knew that anti-federalists were pushing them to weaken it. Anxious to concentrate on important matters, he shepherded 12 that he considered most harmless through Congress. Bordewich also includes a list of the members of the First Federal Congress, divided between the Senate and the House of Representatives, from each state.

Far less edifying than the Constitutional Convention but equally crucial, the colorful machinations of our first Congress receive a delightful account that will keep even educated readers turning the pages.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9193-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

Legal theorists and policymakers will approve the scholarship and close analysis; general readers will appreciate the...

HOW EVERYTHING BECAME WAR AND THE MILITARY BECAME EVERYTHING

TALES FROM THE PENTAGON

A former senior Defense Department adviser explores the military’s expanded role in a time when the lines between war and peace are dangerously blurred.

When it comes to tennis, you can play by the rules, cheat, or remove the net and be playing a game that’s recognizably tennis. In a post–9/11 world of persistent warfare, attention to definitions and rules matters more than ever, Brooks (Law/Georgetown Univ.; Can Might Make Rights?: Building the Rule of Law after Military Interventions, 2006) insists, to avoid awakening to find “that war has swallowed us whole.” She expertly guides readers through this confusing new terrain, asking some basic questions. What constitutes an armed attack? What makes a soldier? What rules govern a drone strike or a special ops raid? What laws apply to National Security Agency wiretapping, indefinite lock-up, or to the violation of another nation’s sovereignty? Throughout her consistently engaging discussion, the author mixes history, politics, and law and draws on her wide-ranging personal experience, inside and outside government, to answer these queries and more. Increasingly, she notes, we call on our esteemed and well-funded military to navigate the eroding boundaries between war and peace, assigning our combat forces tasks—providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, medical and engineering support—that go well beyond their historic role. Now, because modern war is not easily contained, new models of law and of institutions will be required. Brooks offers a few suggested reforms, some more easily accomplished (recalibrating military recruitment) than others (universal service), but whether she’s invoking Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit image to illustrate the ambiguity of language and the importance of context, dissecting an excruciatingly difficult Hague Tribunal case assigning guilt to an obscure Croatian soldier, or drawing comparisons between a Putin-ordered assassination and an Obama-ordered drone strike, she never fails to stimulate and enlighten.

Legal theorists and policymakers will approve the scholarship and close analysis; general readers will appreciate the sensitive storytelling, the wit, and the uncommon good sense.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7786-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

Filled with stories of cronyism and influence peddling, Denton’s riveting and revealing book will undoubtedly displease the...

THE PROFITEERS

BECHTEL AND THE MEN WHO BUILT THE WORLD

Investigative journalist Denton (The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right, 2012, etc.) offers an ambitious “empire biography” of the Bechtel family and the secretive, privately held construction company–turned–diversified international conglomerate that has been “inextricably enmeshed” in U.S. foreign policy for seven decades.

In this incredible-seeming but deeply researched book, the author traces the phenomenal rise of the California-based corporation that became famous for building the Hoover Dam and went on to handle billion-dollar projects from the Channel Tunnel to the Big Dig; to construct airports, power plants, and entire cities; to cart away the wreckage of the World Trade Center and rebuild Iraq; to privatize America’s nuclear weapons business (assuming control of Los Alamos, etc.); and, in the end, to complete 25,000 projects in 160 countries. Now the world’s largest contractor, with offices in 50 nations, Bechtel, from 1999 to 2013, received $40 billion in contracts from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense. “Despite its fiercely antiregulatory, antigovernment stance,” writes Denton, “the Bechtel family owes its entire fortune to the U.S. government.” She describes the dizzying revolving door between Bechtel’s headquarters and the federal government: Bechtel executives that include John McCone, George P. Shultz, and Casper Weinberger have passed through, forging links with the CIA and other government agencies and leading to favorable contracts and subsidies. Whether in war-torn Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere, it has always been “difficult to determine if Bechtel was doing favors for the US government, or if it was the other way around.” Parts of this mammoth story have been told before, but Denton has shaped it into a taut, page-turning narrative detailing the company’s machinations under five generations of family leadership. She concludes that the firm is “either a brilliant triumph or an iconic symbol of grotesque capitalism.”

Filled with stories of cronyism and influence peddling, Denton’s riveting and revealing book will undoubtedly displease the so-called “boys from Bechtel,” who refused to talk to Denton, referring her to the company website.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0646-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

A deep, significant exploration of artistic atonement in postwar Germany.

THE BITTER TASTE OF VICTORY

IN THE RUINS OF THE REICH

An elucidating cultural study explores the ways artists forged a sense of redemption—both personal and societal—from the devastation of post–World War II Germany.

European and American writers, journalists, filmmakers, and painters were drawn to postwar Germany to witness the horrendous carnage as well as the Allied attempts at rehabilitation. In her rigorously researched study, a natural extension of her previous look at the Blitz through the eyes of selected London authors, The Love-charm of Bombs (2013), British scholar and journalist Feigel (English/King’s Coll. London) picks through the rubble of Germany through the points of view of a variety of writers. These include Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Martha Gellhorn, and two of the children of Thomas Mann, Erika and Klaus, returned from exile. Should the Germans be excoriated and forced to confess their guilt—as the Allied Occupation established in the “JCS 1067” document that formed the official postwar policy in Germany and which the Manns insisted upon—or should the suffering of the people be addressed through humanitarian efforts, as proposed by British author Stephen Spender and others who hoped to enlist German culture in the country’s resurrection? Were the British, Americans, Russians, and French who divvied up Berlin to be considered liberators or enemy occupiers? Moreover, along with the divergent opinions on how to deal with the defeated Germans, there was the personal anguish experienced by correspondents like Gellhorn, who plumbed her grief over visiting Dachau in her war novel Point of No Return (1948). Feigel looks at the incredible speed with which the Berlin theater regained its footing and examines the rise of what would become known as Trümmerliteratur (“rubble literature”), as writers scrambled to find what Peter de Mendelssohn called “a vocabulary with which to describe bombed cities.” Exiled German speakers—e.g., Hollywood director Billy Wilder and actress Marlene Dietrich and Thomas Mann—were most relentless in their damnation of the Germans.

A deep, significant exploration of artistic atonement in postwar Germany.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-551-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.

THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH

THE U.S. STANDARD OF LIVING SINCE THE CIVIL WAR

A comprehensive analysis of “one of the most fundamental questions about American economic history.”

Gordon (Social Sciences/Northwestern Univ.; Macroeconomics, 2008, etc.), a respected macroeconomist, provides a groundbreaking contribution to political economy. His emphasis is quite different from the familiar concerns of budget deficits and quarterly profits. He compares the growth of real wages, living standards, and innovations in technology over two periods: 1870 to 1940 and 1940 to 1970. The author identifies advances in lifestyles, and he establishes that New Deal labor policies, which caused real wages to rise faster than productivity, laid the foundation for “the Great Leap Forward” in the middle of the 20th century. The author also shows how horse-drawn streetcars and steam-powered trains expanded urban activities, and he examines how electrification and the internal combustion engine powered the Second Industrial Revolution. Gordon is primarily concerned with the quality of these successive improvements—which, he writes, “are missing from GDP altogether”—as well as the consumer price index, which tracks current sales and prices. “Our measure of capital input,” he writes, “is newly developed for this book and adjusts for the unusual aspects of investment behavior during the 1930s and 1940s.” The author uses his fresh methods to back his argument for the primary significance of the reforms that took place during the New Deal. These policies, many of which are now considered failures, are thus shown to have provided the groundwork for what was to come. This Great Leap Forward generated the momentum that continued into the 1970s. The book is not for general readers, but students and scholars in economics and American history will find within these pages much illuminating interpretation of a massive amount of data.

A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-14772-7

Page Count: 776

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

A masterful account of wartime skulduggery that has relevance still today.

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THE SECRET WAR

SPIES, CIPHERS, AND GUERRILLAS, 1939-1945

Taking a break with Catastrophe: 1914 (2013), veteran military historian Hastings returns to World War II with the usual entirely satisfying results.

There are plenty of excellent accounts of the war’s espionage, codebreaking, and secret operations. Hastings mentions authors, including Stephen Budiansky and David Kahn, and warns that he will cover the same ground, adding that many popular histories and almost all memoirs and even official reports from the participants are largely fiction—including the recent acclaimed film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game. The Red Army defeated Germany with modest help from the Allied Army, which, across the world, defeated Japan. Hastings disparages writers who describe a secret activity that turned the tide, but few readers will be able to resist his version of events. Hitler and Stalin scorned Britain’s armies, but, influenced by the work of Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and John Buchan, they “viewed its spies with extravagant respect, indeed cherished a belief in their omniscience” that was entirely undeserved. Money was no object in Soviet espionage. Agents penetrated the Nazi high command and all Allied government, sending back an avalanche of information that was routinely ignored. Obsessed with finding conspiracies, the paranoid Stalin distrusted everyone, foreigners most of all, and rejected findings that contradicted his beliefs. Allied codebreakers deserve the praise lavished on them, but Hastings points out that the German codebreakers were no slouches. While Bletchley Park broke enemy naval codes intermittently, Germany read British naval codes throughout the war. Hastings has little quarrel with historians who agree that resistance fighters did more to promote postwar self-respect of occupied nations than hasten Allied victory. As he notes in closing, in the digital age, “the importance to national security of intelligence, eavesdropping, codebreaking and counter-insurgency has never been greater.”

A masterful account of wartime skulduggery that has relevance still today.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-225927-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

A riveting thesis supported by staggering research.

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WHITE TRASH

THE 400-YEAR UNTOLD HISTORY OF CLASS IN AMERICA

A rigorously researched study of the entrenched system of racial classification that dispels many myths about American national identity.

In this impressive work of social history, Isenberg (American History/Louisiana State Univ.; Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, 2007, etc.) challenges head-on America’s “fable of class denial.” From the first indentured servants brought to Plymouth and Jamestown to the caricatured hillbillies of Duck Dynasty, the existence of “waste” people, or impoverished, ignorant, landless whites, has persistently run against convenient notions of the upstanding American founder—i.e., moral, hardworking “entrepreneurial stewards of the exploitable land.” Dumped on the Colonies, the vagrant, often criminal poor from England and elsewhere were considered expendable and often exploited. As a key to the story, Isenberg looks at the early settlement of North Carolina, which became a “renegade territory, a swampy refuge for the poor and landless,” situated between elite Virginians and slaveholding “upstart” South Carolinians. Contrary to the mythmaking of the exceptional early American in writings by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, based on theories of “good breeding” and yeomanry, a whole class of common people grew up as a byproduct of the slaveholding states, living on the margins of the plantations: dirt-poor Southerners (literally “clay-eaters”) who were considered lazy and racially degenerate. Moreover, the enormous new swaths of Western land were largely populated by a new class of “squatters” or “crackers,” considered “mangy varmints infesting the land” and represented by the first Westerner elected president, Andrew Jackson. Isenberg examines some surprising sources of these early stereotypes of white trash, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), in which the author “described poor whites as a degenerate class, prone to crime, immorality, and ignorance.” From the eugenics movement to the rise of the proud redneck, Isenberg portrays a very real and significant history of class privilege in the United States.

A riveting thesis supported by staggering research. 

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-78597-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

Racism is the enduring scar on the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how deep...

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STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING

THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF RACIST IDEAS IN AMERICA

An accomplished history of racist thought and practice in the United States from the Puritans to the present.

Anyone who thought that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama marked the emergence of post-racial America has been sorely disillusioned in the subsequent years with seemingly daily reminders of the schism wrought by racism and white supremacy. And yet anyone with even a cursory understanding of this country’s tortured history with race should have known better. In this tour de force, Kendi (African-American History/Univ. of Florida; The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972, 2012) explores the history of racist ideas—and their connection with racist practices—across American history. The author uses five main individuals as “tour guides” to investigate the development of racist ideas throughout the history of the U.S.: the preacher and intellectual Cotton Mather, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, ardent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, and activist Angela Davis. Kendi also poses three broad schools of thought regarding racial matters throughout American history: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. Although this trio can be reductionist, it provides a solid framework for understanding the interplay between racist ideas, anti-racism, and the attempts to synthesize them—“assimilationism,” which the author ultimately identifies as simply another form of racism, even when advocated by African-Americans. The subtitle of the book promises a “definitive history,” but despite the book’s more than 500 pages of text, its structure and its viewing of racial ideas through the lens of five individuals means that it is almost necessarily episodic. Although it is a fine history, the narrative may best be read as an extended, sophisticated, and sometimes (justifiably) angry essay.

Racism is the enduring scar on the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how deep that scar cuts and why it endures, its barely subcutaneous pain still able to flare.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-56858-463-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

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NOTHING EVER DIES

VIETNAM AND THE MEMORY OF WAR

A scholarly exploration of memory and the Vietnam War from an author “born in Vietnam but made in America.”

While Nguyen (English and American Studies & Ethnicity/Univ. of Southern California; The Sympathizer, 2015, etc.) focuses on the Vietnam War, the war that most intimately affected his Vietnamese family, his fine reflections on how to treat and preserve the memory of war “justly” extends to other neighboring wars such as those in Cambodia, Laos, Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The “ethics of remembering” is complicated, as the author explains while walking readers through specific parts of Vietnam, because it involves not just grieving one’s nearest and dearest—e.g., visiting cemeteries of fallen family members—but feeling compassion for others, as the moving, reflective black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., elicits beautifully. Nguyen stresses the importance of recognizing that we are not only the victims of horrible tragedy, but also the perpetrators: “Reminding ourselves that being human also means being inhuman is important simply because it is so easy to forget our inhumanity or to displace it onto other humans.” The author also explores the “memory industries,” such as Hollywood movies that cater to “young men’s erotic fascination with pure sex and war movies.” He looks at many examples of war memorials in Vietnam and Korea that attempt to bring the memory into the present, while books, especially novels by Vietnamese-Americans, convey senses of affirmation and redemption and allow the ghosts, literally, to speak. Grasping our essential inhumanity through art (a “true war story”), Nguyen affirms, is one way to resist the “memory industry,” the ultimate goal of which is to “reproduce power and inequality.” Finally, there is the role of “just” forgetting, which allows people to go on and live as well as to forgive.

Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-66034-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

A lively account of our Revolution’s most reviled figure.

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VALIANT AMBITION

GEORGE WASHINGTON, BENEDICT ARNOLD, AND THE FATE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

A history of the American Revolution, focused on George Washington (1732-1799) and Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), in which the author acknowledges Arnold’s good points but does not fully rehabilitate him.

National Book Award winner Philbrick (Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, 2013, etc.) devotes almost equal time to Washington, in his eyes an incompetent general and a slow—although eventually successful—learner but a superb judge of talent; he knew Arnold possessed plenty. As a militia captain at the 1775 siege of Boston, Arnold impressed Washington with his energy in capturing the fortress of Ticonderoga. His expedition to Quebec ended in disaster but burnished his reputation. In 1777, fearless leadership played a major role in defeating Gen. John Burgoyne at Saratoga. Arnold’s self-regard ensured that success produced more enemies than admirers. Appointed military governor of Philadelphia in 1778, he was a controversial figure and began to profit from a variety of business deals related to his post. In 1779, he offered his services to the British and began sending useful intelligence. Only bad luck derailed his 1780 plot to surrender West Point to the British. In Philbrick’s opinion, Arnold was a psychopath. Oblivious to the consequences of his actions, he was incredibly brave under fire. Peculation was common even among loyal Revolutionary officers, but Arnold’s stood out. He exhausted his fortune to support his campaigns, lived beyond his means, and used his official position, especially in Philadelphia, to enrich himself. Payment dominated his negotiations with the British. After brilliantly chronicling two obscure voyages (In the Heart of the Sea, Sea of Glory), Philbrick turned to familiar subjects (Mayflower, Bunker Hill) with admirable, if slightly less, brilliance but better sales. Like the latter, Valiant Ambition is solid popular history.

A lively account of our Revolution’s most reviled figure.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-42678-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

This eye-opening exposure of the abuse of the indigenous peoples of America is staggering; that the mistreatment continued...

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THE OTHER SLAVERY

THE UNCOVERED STORY OF INDIAN ENSLAVEMENT IN AMERICA

We all know that Christopher Columbus and his successors enslaved the natives in the New World. Reséndez (History/Univ. of California, Davis; A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, 2009, etc.) exposes the broad brush that the “other slavery” wielded.

The extinction of the indigenous peoples of America is usually written off as the effect of diseases introduced by Spanish soldiers and colonists. Not so, says the author; it took only 60 years after Columbus’ discovery for a cataclysmic population collapse. They died from slavery, overwork, and famine. Reséndez examines the methods of enslavement, from the 15th-century Caribbean to 19th-century California, and his approachable style eases reading difficult personal stories of slavery and cruelty. That there are so many individual stories illustrates the author’s wide-ranging research. Columbus initially intended to transport Indians to Europe in a “reverse middle passage,” but he was thwarted by Ferdinand and Isabella’s opposition to slavery as well as the need for labor in the mines. In 1542, the Spanish crown passed the New Laws, outlawing slavery, and procuradores, specialist lawyers, were appointed to sue for freedom of those illegally enslaved. Reséndez shows how inconvenient laws were bypassed. First, the parameters of who could be enslaved were not necessarily strictly defined. While the royals insisted their people be treated as vassals, those who enslaved them just changed the nomenclature and methods. Colonists were granted encomiendas, grants of Indians to overlords, or repartimientos, compulsory labor drafts. The growth of peonage—debt slavery—provided even more slave labor. Eventually, Mexican silver mines turned to New Mexico to supply slaves, which gives the author the opportunity to provide the history of peoples in the Southwest. As the Mormons bought slaves to “civilize” them, the Spanish initially enslaved people to “Christianize” them. Both merely created an underclass.

This eye-opening exposure of the abuse of the indigenous peoples of America is staggering; that the mistreatment continued into the 20th century is beyond disturbing.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-547-64098-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

An immensely readable, nondidactic study of how “perpetuating the War for the Greater Middle East is not enhancing American...

AMERICA'S WAR FOR THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST

A MILITARY HISTORY

A critical examination of the four decades–long failed U.S. policy of using military force to solve the ongoing crises in the Middle East.

From the disastrous attempt to rescue the U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran in 1980 to the present day, Army veteran and author Bacevich (Emeritus, International Relations and History/Boston Univ.; Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, 2014, etc.) finds few accomplishments in the U.S. military action in the Middle East. The irony that the most peaceable, guileless president, Jimmy Carter, was the one to implement the first direct military action in the region (“An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States”) underscores what the author sees as a long-running lack of clarity and focus to American policy. Thus, the Persian Gulf—specifically, the access to its oil—assumed new importance to the United States, and the region became a significant “area of responsibility” to be governed by the newly christened U.S. Central Command. Following a truly eye-opening diagram at the book’s beginning, which delineates the many staggered “selected campaigns and operations, 1980-” in the region by the U.S., Bacevich moves chronologically through these unfortunate military engagements—e.g., Operation Cyclone, the covert arming of the Afghan resistance to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This particular campaign, writes the author, deserves mention for two reasons: it laid the foundation for the later overt actions, and it illustrates the persistent pattern of “intently focusing on solving one problem, to exacerbate a second and plant the seeds of a third.” Over and over, the U.S. military mentality of “we won, they lost” proved short-lived and misguided.

An immensely readable, nondidactic study of how “perpetuating the War for the Greater Middle East is not enhancing American freedom, abundance, and security. If anything, it is having the opposite effect.”

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-39393-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

An endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of American history. A fantastic historical resource.

CITY OF DREAMS

THE 400-YEAR EPIC HISTORY OF IMMIGRANT NEW YORK

From the Dutch to the British, featuring a concentration on the waves of Irish and German in the late 19th century, this thoroughgoing work offers a host of immigrant sagas that were integral to the creation of the New York City cauldron.

Proceeding with grand themes such as “Anglicization,” “War,” “Liberty,” and “Refuge,” Anbinder (History/George Washington Univ.; Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum, 2001, etc.) impressively conveys the sense of a city truly forged by the people who were determined to live and work there. He uses personal stories—e.g., by those who made the arduous ocean crossing under horrendous conditions—as well as contemporary maps that illustrate the delineation of neighborhoods by ethnicity, diagrams of the early tenement flats, and charts that record the incredible fluctuating numbers. For example, 950,000 Irish immigrants arrived in New York during the great famine years of the mid-1840s-1850s. Anbinder concentrates on the nitty-gritty details of these difficult early lives in America: their arrival at the immigration and inspection station, harassment by “runners” who tried to swindle them out of their money and luggage, groupings into neighborhoods and wards, overcrowded living conditions in squalid tenement buildings inhabited by most of the poorest new arrivals, and the kinds of jobs the unskilled gravitated toward, including household servants, manual laborers, street peddlers, and grocers. The author also examines the political proclivities of the newcomers—e.g., the support of the crooked Tweed Ring, the “Irish menace,” and recalcitrant Democrats who kept the vote from African-Americans. On the other hand, the tension between immigrants and nativists led to the rise of the Know Nothing Party and the increasing restrictions on immigration, especially against the Chinese. Furthermore, Anbinder gives plenty of room for the stories of the Jews, Italians, African-Americans, Dominicans, and others.

An endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of American history. A fantastic historical resource.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-10465-5

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

Profoundly significant literature as history.

SECONDHAND TIME

THE LAST OF THE SOVIETS

A lively, deeply moving cacophony of Russian voices for whom the Soviet era was as essential as their nature.

Nobel Prize–winning (2015) Russian writer Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl, 2005, etc.) presents a rich kaleidoscope of voices from all regions of the former Soviet Union who reveal through long tortuous monologues what living under communism really was like. For a new generation of Russians born after World War II, the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost, the attempted putsch of the government, collapse of the Soviet Union, and subsequent economic crises of the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin heralded a sense of freedom and new possibility, yet many Russians were left disillusioned and angry. What was socialism now supposed to mean for the former Homo sovieticus, now derogatively called a sovok ("dustbin")? Indeed, how to reconcile 70-plus years of official lies, murder, misery, and oppression? In segments she calls "Snatches of Street Noise and Kitchen Conversations," Alexievich transcribes these (apparently) recorded monologues and conversations in sinuous stream-of-consciousness prose. People of all ages delineate events with bewilderment and fury—e.g., those who had taken to the barricades during the putsch of 1991 hoping for another utopia ("They buried Sovietdom to the music of Tchaikovsky") and ending up with a scary new world where capitalism was suddenly good and "money became synonymous with freedom." The older generation had lived through the era of Stalin, the KGB and arbitrary arrests, betrayal by neighbors and friends, imprisonment, torture, and the gulag, and these remembrances are particularly haunting to read. One horrifying example is an older neighbor and friend of a man who burned himself alive in his vegetable patch because he had nothing left to live for. The suicides Alexievich emphasizes are heart-wrenching, as is the reiterated sense of the people's "naivete" in the face of ceaseless official deception, the endurance of anti-Semitism, war in the former Soviet republics, famine, and the most appalling living conditions. The author captures these voices in a priceless time capsule.

Profoundly significant literature as history.

Pub Date: May 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-58880-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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