Essential reading for the historically minded in a time of ongoing struggle for civil rights.



Eminent Civil War historian Guelzo examines the many reasons the Reconstruction era, “the ugly duckling of American history,” ended in failure.

Reconstruction, the brainchild of Abraham Lincoln and carried out—or not—by successors Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, was meant to rebuild the rebellious Southern states and reincorporate them into the Union while altering their political structure to allow for the suffrage and citizens’ rights of former slaves. From 1865 to 1877, that federal project ground down before achieving its ambitions, though parts were put in place. As Guelzo (Director, Civil War Era Studies/Gettysburg Coll.; Redeeming the Great Emancipator, 2016, etc.) notes, there’s something in Reconstruction for nearly everyone to hate but also something powerful by way of an object lesson: Much of the South’s “Lost Cause” myth was born in the time, as a pointed morality tale in resisting a tyranny in which whites and not blacks were disenfranchised and the extraordinary levels of graft and corruption allowed do-gooders on all sides to point to the doomed effort with I-told-you-so smugness. For all that, Reconstruction had to grapple with large issues: Were the states formerly in rebellion still states? Who was responsible for paying Confederate debts? In the end, almost everyone concerned with the enterprise failed to press Reconstruction to its presumed end. Consequently, former slaveholders were restored to positions of power and influence that in turn subjected former slaves to peonage, which, as one former slave put it, “is not the condition of really freemen.” As seems so often the case in American history, African-Americans emerge the losers in Guelzo’s narrative. As he writes, it was not just property and economic freedom that fled them, but “what Southern blacks lost in wholesale amounts was political agency.” Thus the rise of Jim Crow laws and the spectacle, 150 years after the end of the war, of continued disenfranchisement and de facto segregation.

Essential reading for the historically minded in a time of ongoing struggle for civil rights.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-086569-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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