Returning to his interest in the native tribes (The Long Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians, 1993, etc.), Bancroft Prize—winning historian Wallace gives us a book that immediately becomes the best among very few other studies of its subject. The author, an anthropologist deeply knowledgeable about American native cultures, reveals his colors early on: Jefferson’s acts concerning the Indians were “hypocritical, arbitrary, duplicitous, even harsh,” the Squire of Monticello himself a liar and self-serving. While he studied the natives, knew some, and thought carefully about their lives and cultures, he could not rid himself of the conviction that these American tribal peoples must either become “civilized”—give up hunting and gathering, become farmers, and adopt Euro-American ways—or disappear. But Jefferson didn’t stop there: throughout his life, he effectually harried the Indians into war, land cessions, or flight and thus, in Wallace’s view, must be held responsible both for inaugurating the failed 19th-century policy of removing the Indians to the far west and then onto reservations and for their drastic decline in numbers. This is a harsh indictment, made harsher still by Wallace’s inappropriate likening of Jefferson’s policies to genocide, a holocaust, and ethnic cleansing. After all, neither Jefferson nor most of his contemporaries sought the Indians’ extermination. Yet, fortunately, these overwrought anachronistic charges do not affect much of the book, which otherwise makes clear the complexities of native-European interaction in the post-Revolutionary era. One result is that a reader comes away from the book’s pages less critical of Jefferson than Wallace probably wishes, more accepting of the limits upon Jefferson’s misguided views, and deflated by a sense of the near inevitability of the Indians’ fate. One wishes that Wallace had occasionally lifted his eyes from the details of his subject—to compare, for example, the contributions of Indian removal and slavery to white man’s democracy. A searching scholarly study of one of the great American dilemmas. (60 photos, 3 maps)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-674-00066-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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

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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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