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Americans Knocking at Freedom's Door

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

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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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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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