Langguth shows rather than explains, and the result is a rich history of an understudied period of American history.




A new political history of Reconstruction.

Former New York Times reporter Langguth (Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War, 2010, etc.) has written three previous volumes in this series of character-driven histories, beginning with Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution (1988), and this will be the final volume. There is a scene in the early pages of this history of the tumultuous period following the Civil War that makes clear just how much regional enmity remained after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner made some barbed comments about South Carolina during an abolitionist speech, and a congressman from that state came to Sumner’s office a few days later and beat him senseless with a wooden cane. Sumner took months to recover. During this period, the Union established voting rights and economic freedoms for freed slaves across the South, though such rights would be short-lived. The story begins at the end of the Civil War and moves forward through biographical sketches of Andrew Johnson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, William Henry Steward, Edwin Stanton, Horace Greeley and others. The author ends with a portrait of Jim Crow and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Popular history has largely forgotten how progressive Reconstruction was—African-Americans were elected to many public offices in the South, had high voting rates and experienced economic opportunities unimaginable during the Civil War—and how “states’ rights” supporters slowly took those gains away during the Jim Crow era. The power of the Ku Klux Klan to strike fear was very real, no matter how foreign it seems today. This is a cogent, well-researched, well-told history of that important period.

Langguth shows rather than explains, and the result is a rich history of an understudied period of American history.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1732-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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

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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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