Overly panoramic in breadth but still a worthwhile contribution to the immigration debate.

Americans Knocking at Freedom's Door

A debut book explores U.S. immigration policy from the perspective of the nation’s historical and religious character.

Immigration has always been a contentious topic in the U.S., and the most searching discussions often revolve around the constitutive components of American identity. In her book, Smith-DeBoe provides a broad historical perspective in an attempt to capture the nation’s core character, or the “American DNA.” She begins with biblical history—with special emphasis on the story of Noah’s Ark—and traces the human race’s genealogy through successive tribal permutations. Immigration debate usually takes its bearings around ethnic, national, and cultural diversity, but the author is first interested in establishing the common ancestries of humankind. This is also an account of Christianity’s birth, and Smith-Deboe tracks the arc of the religion’s development through the Middle Ages and Reformation period to the religious oppression in Europe that partly inspired the original wave of migration to America. Then the author’s attention turns to America’s formation out of its fledgling colonial phase and the essential role religious faith played in the nation’s establishment: “There were different protestant communities and some imposed their way of life and views on others once they arrived in the colonies, but no one can question the fact that America was begun by people who honored God and set their founding principles from the words in the Bible.” Smith-DeBoe contends that the country’s shared Judeo-Christian heritage—the core of its “DNA”—must be the guiding principle of any reasonable immigration policy. The book concludes with a reflection on the author’s Amish background, which at first seems misplaced but turns out to be a provocative reflection on a people who have successfully combined a spirit of countercultural separatism with deeply felt patriotism. This is an eclectic work, and the author is to be credited with an effort to liberate immigration debate from myopically partisan talking points. The sweeping yet brief history of humanity is unnecessary to make her essential arguments, and the book probably should have begun with the discussion of Christianity in early modern Europe. In addition, the culminating chapter on immigration doesn’t provide nearly enough specific policy guidance. But Smith-Deboe makes about as powerful a case as one will find that America’s religiousness is not only important, but also consistent with its political secularism.

Overly panoramic in breadth but still a worthwhile contribution to the immigration debate.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5320-0101-7

Page Count: 346

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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