CENTENARIANS

THE STORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY BY THE AMERICANS WHO LIVED IT

A breathtaking oral biography of 100-year-old Americans that vivifies the past century while we are on the cusp of a new one. In this ambitious book, Edelman, a photojournalist and editor of Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (not reviewed), speaks to 90 of America’s 37,000 centenarians. The book has a few stars (like a survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a pitcher who struck out Ty Cobb, a black woman who staged a daring protest for integration, an investor who still goes to work five days a week, and a soldier who was at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and spoke with President Woodrow Wilson) and many people who are only remarkable for their age. In a chapter titled “The Good Old Days,” there are memories of a simpler and rougher America, especially for struggling women and minorities. The next two chapters, “Labor Days” and “The Great War” tell the intimate story of the sacrifices earlier generations made to insure 40-hour weeks and freedom from dictatorships. “Brave New World” reminds us how, before the latest medical advances, 21 million lives were lost to influenza. Economically, too, the American Century had a wild start, as chronicled by a businessman who was young during the Depression. Philip Carret (age 102) describes the early New York Stock Exchange as an unregulated gambling den full of various scams and unscrupulous pools for manipulators to make “a quick profit.” Less reminiscent of the 1980s is his relation of the fact that no one knew it was “Black Tuesday” or the Great Crash of 1929 until months later; and while he did understand that some people jumped out of the window—nobody he knew did so. One might expect reminiscences from a survivor of the Nazi death camps to be included here, but we also get the testimony of an interned Japanese-American whose son died in the American army. Luxuriating with these oral histories is like getting to spend some precious moments with the grandparents we never got to speak to.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-17678-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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...

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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