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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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