An important footnote in the making of the 16th president.



Solid account of the most significant case in Abraham Lincoln’s 25-year law career.

On May 6, 1856, the steamboat Effie Afton crashed into the Rock Island Bridge—the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River—damaging the span and destroying the vessel and its 350 tons of livestock, machinery and other cargo. The 200 passengers on board were unharmed. The boat operators’ ensuing suit for damages sparked an “epochal clash” between the railroads—a new, faster, more economical means of transport—and the steamboats then commanding the nation’s western waterways. With a focus on the lanky Lincoln, a lawyer for the defense who would become president four years later, historian and attorney McGinty (The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus, 2011, etc.) recounts the historic 15-day Chicago trial, which involved more than 100 witnesses and ended in a hung jury, paving the way for the dominance of the railroad industry. Despite Lincoln’s low self-assessment (“I am not an accomplished lawyer,” he said), he proved a persuasive orator, sometimes whittling a piece of wood as he contested testimony and impressing jurors with his detailed knowledge of river currents and other facts in the case. Lincoln may have been awkward and ungainly, writes the author, but his courtroom skills convinced powerful backers that he had a political future. His debates two years later with Illinois Sen. Stephen A. Douglas would prove his springboard to the presidency. Besides detailing the Effie Afton case’s importance to Lincoln’s career, McGinty offers an excellent view of Mississippi steamboat traffic in the mid-19th century and the coming onrush of the railroads, which would transform how the nation moved passengers and goods.

An important footnote in the making of the 16th president.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0871407849

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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

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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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