For food history and presidential history buffs alike, both entertaining and illuminating.



“The White House kitchen is a workplace, just like any other professional kitchen”—except, of course, that it’s much more than that, a subject that food historian Miller (Soul Food, 2013) explores with gusto.

In a modest sense, the subtitle of the book is a touch limiting, for his latest is a broad-sweeping history of American culinary culture as interpreted through a long line of presidential chefs and food workers. That lineage is primarily African-American, and so it has always been. As Miller writes, George Washington’s head chef was an enslaved man named Hercules, who, by Miller’s account, had a temperament and an ego to match the demands of the job—and even to rival his boss, “who had a very bad temper.” If the Founder was a grouch, there’s no reason why his cook shouldn’t be a martinet—successful enough, it happens, to earn an income on the side. Just so, a member of Thomas Jefferson’s kitchen staff went on to become a caterer and later a preacher and abolitionist, proof that, yesterday as today, the kitchen is a launching place for many successful ventures outside it. Miller explores the logistics of the White House, with its layers and hierarchies and kitchens for staff as well as the chief executive, of the culinary curiosities surrounding the various presidents (including the difficulty of keeping dairy products on hand when needed, as Richard Nixon would complain). Thanks to Miller’s careful research, we know that Jimmy Carter “doesn’t especially like green peas,” in first lady Rosalynn Carter’s careful words, and that his predecessor, Gerald Ford, had a fondness for butter pecan ice cream. More substantial are Miller’s notes, sometimes between the lines, on how exposure to African-American persons, their foodways, and their “professional excellence” played a part in lessening the prejudices of the nation’s chief officeholders.

For food history and presidential history buffs alike, both entertaining and illuminating.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4696-3253-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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