An incisive history of the futility of censorship.



The combative life of a man who “spread shame.”

For 40 years, Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) mounted a vigorous, often obsessive campaign, in the courts and in the press, to stamp out vice. For much of his notorious career, he was the sole arbiter of obscenity. Werbel (History of Art/Fashion Institute of Technology; Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia, 2007) offers a richly detailed examination of Comstock’s life and mission, which she presents as a cautionary tale for our own time, when evangelical Christianity seeks to impose its values on the nation. For Comstock and his supporters in the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, repressing sexuality was “the only solution to pressing social problems.” He opposed women’s empowerment, condemned abortions and the women who died from botched procedures, and viewed “child sex trafficking as largely the fault of the victims.” Fueled by religious zeal and supported by others who shared his Christian ideology, Comstock worked to initiate and expand state and federal anti-obscenity statutes that criminalized “anyone who facilitated the arousal of lust and sexual gratification other than for procreative purposes within marriage.” As Secretary of the NYSSV, he energetically ferreted out lust, collecting material from a wide range of sources, including publishers, artists, photographers, merchants, theatrical producers, brothels, men’s clubs, and art galleries. By 1876, he had sent to pulp mills more than 21,000 pounds of books and 202,000 images and photographs. For the bulk of the book, Werbel draws on Comstock’s three-volume “Records of Arrests,” his detailed chronicle of his “efforts to defeat Satan in America.” This material reveals the trajectory of Comstock’s influence and power, which plummeted after 1884, when artists, wealthy art collectors, and lawyers, judges, and juries thwarted him, questioning his credibility as a judge of “depravity.” He became a butt of jokes, skewered in derisive cartoons and criticized widely in the press.

An incisive history of the futility of censorship.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-17522-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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