A readable, comprehensive, but unsurprising history of the American Revolution. Bobrick (Knotted Tongues: Stuttering in History and the Quest for a Cure, 1995, etc.) admits in the preface that he walks familiar ground but, having ancestors who fought on both sides of the conflict, he says he wanted to retell the story his own way. That seems to mean approaching the Revolution as a good yarn, one in which the heroes are saved from one mortal peril after another, seemingly by an ``Angel in the Whirlwind,'' a phrase coined by Virginian John Page in a 1776 letter to Thomas Jefferson. Bobrick highlights the numerous points at which the revolution could have collapsed: if British commander-in-chief William Howe had struck the demoralized, poorly clothed, poorly fed and unpaid American troops in the winter of 1777; if, on numerous occasions, British ships had arrived sooner, or British commanders had acted more wisely; and most of all, if Congress had picked anyone else but George Washington to lead the army. Washington is the hero of heroes in this saga. He wins wars not just against the British but also against a feeble Congress, fractious colonies, and numerous fierce competitors for his job. Bobrick's narrative includes both revolutionaries and loyalists, and he does an excellent job of explaining why so many colonialists stayed true to the Crown—an aspect of the revolution given short shrift by many historians. Bobrick gives shorter shrift, however, to Native Americans, describing in detail atrocities attributed to them—they mostly fought on the British side—while offering virtually no context to their role. The sufferings of black slaves, used cruelly by both sides, are noted in passing. Readable, enlivened by many excerpts from the writings of participants famous and humble, this is a good primer on the revolution—but not a revolutionary one.

Pub Date: July 4, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81060-3

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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