A fascinating work of economic history that sheds light on daily life in the young Republic.




Thomas Jefferson died owing the equivalent of millions of dollars, while the richest man in revolutionary America did prison time for not paying his bills. “Debt was an inescapable fact of life in early America,” writes Mann—a fact with considerable political and economic implications.

Bankruptcy, that familiar constant in an age of boom and bust, has a moral as well as financial component. Deservedly or not, in the early days of the American republic, shame and mistrust attached to a debtor who sought shelter and relief under the law, notes the author (Law and History/Univ. of Pennsylvania), quoting a toast offered in the New York debtors’ prison when Congress finally passed a short-lived national bankruptcy bill in 1800: “May the pride of every debtor be to pay his just debts, if ever in his power; and shun offers of credit in future as destructive to his life, liberty, and property.” Yet early Americans depended on the extension of credit to finance new farms, factories, and residences, to tame the frontier, and to bring goods to market. They also depended on the mercy of the courts to keep them out of prison when, as often happened, they failed in their various ventures. Mann offers the instructive case of Robert Morris, the J. P. Morgan of his day, who “embraced debt as the engine of his vast speculations” and refused to “moralize failure.” In the author’s view, Morris perfectly illustrates the reigning attitudes of the time: on the one hand, economic failure was personal failure, but on the other it was simply part of the cost of doing business. Mann also examines the history of national bankruptcy laws, which ran counter to the view held by Jefferson and many other leaders that debt was the province of the individual states and not the federal government.

A fascinating work of economic history that sheds light on daily life in the young Republic.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-674-00902-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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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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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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