Essential background reading for anyone seeking to understand the history of the early republic and the Civil War.

THE WAR BEFORE THE WAR

FUGITIVE SLAVES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR AMERICA'S SOUL FROM THE REVOLUTION TO THE CIVIL WAR

Provocative, sweeping study of America’s original sin—slavery—in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In January 1850, writes Delbanco (American Studies/Columbia Univ.; The Abolitionist Imagination, 2012, etc.) early on in this book, a Virginia senator named James Mason introduced what would become the Fugitive Slave Act, justifying the law constitutionally. “From the point of view of its proponents,” writes the author, “it was a new attempt to solve an old problem: slavery is a condition from which the enslaved will seek to escape.” Slaves fled from George Washington’s farms after the Revolution, and they fled in uncountable numbers in the years after that. Writes Delbanco, 1851 would see a record number of slaves being captured under the terms of the new law, which obliged nonslaveholding states to participate in the return of escapees to bondage; a handful of that number were freed, but most were returned either judicially or without due process. “Opponents regarded compliant officials with disgust and treated them with derision,” writes the author, but even so, efforts to help slaves freeing captivity were improvisational, such as the Underground Railroad, “a loose confederation of independent cells of which the membership was sometimes a single person making a snap decision to hide a runaway rather than turn him in.” Meanwhile, South and North struggled to expand or contain slavery in the new territories of the West, contributing to the conditions leading to secession and war. The overarching point of Delbanco’s narrative is the legal complicity of various federal institutions, from the first constitutional conventions to laws passed just before and even during the Civil War. As the author observes, Lincoln seemed torn about how to dismantle slavery legally in the months leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation; it wasn’t until June 1864, in a “belated act of formal recognition of what the war had already accomplished," that Congress repealed the Fugitive Slave Act.

Essential background reading for anyone seeking to understand the history of the early republic and the Civil War.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59420-405-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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...

NIGHT

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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