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

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THE PRESIDENT'S KITCHEN CABINET

THE STORY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO HAVE FED OUR FIRST FAMILIES, FROM THE WASHINGTONS TO THE OBAMAS

“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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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