A fluent, readable story that corrects mythmaking errors and provides a more nuanced narrative in their place.

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VALLEY FORGE

A central episode in the history of the American Revolution comes under thoughtful examination.

The story of Valley Forge is a trope in America’s sense of itself, a morality play in which beleaguered, stalwart soldiers outlast the ferocious elements in order to wrest freedom from imperial oppression. The reality, ably told here, is far more complex—and far more interesting. Drury and Clavin (co-authors: Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission, 2016, etc.) open with the desperate engagement at Monmouth Courthouse in the summer of 1778, the first major battle the Continental Army fought against the British after being defeated at Brandywine nine months earlier. That defeat had led to the loss of Philadelphia, but now the British were withdrawing to New York. They faced an American Army made resolute by six months’ retreat to Valley Forge, which cost thousands of lives to disease and weather but that also turned the Continentals into a disciplined fighting force. Some of that transformation was due to the influence of European officers; some came about through institutional reforms and increased congressional funding. There was much reform to be done. As the authors write, George Washington found considerable challenges simply in taming his rivalrous commanders; when one of those newcomer Europeans was elevated to senior rank, “Washington’s squabbling collection of more experienced and longer-serving brigadiers revolted.” The cast of characters is impressive, among them a pre-treasonous Benedict Arnold, a sharp-edged Lord Cornwallis, and an Anthony Wayne who would soon reveal why the adjective “mad” should have been applied to him. In the authors’ account, Washington emerges as fallible but indispensable; it is hard to imagine that another commander would have had the same success in the face of so many hardships. A bonus is the authors’ examination of what happened to the principals after the war, ranging from death by chicken bone to enshrinement at Westminster Abbey.

A fluent, readable story that corrects mythmaking errors and provides a more nuanced narrative in their place.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5271-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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