Well-written but mixed collection: some substantial contributions, others self-indulgent.

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I WISH I’D BEEN THERE

TWENTY HISTORIANS BRING TO LIFE DRAMATIC EVENTS THAT CHANGED AMERICA

Historians examine events they wish they could have experienced firsthand.

“What is the scene or incident in American history that you would like to have witnessed—and why?” editor Hollinshead asks his distinguished contributors. The answers run the gamut, from a 1783 plot against George Washington by his own officers to the conversation that took place between Lyndon Johnson and Alabama governor George Wallace around the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s attempted march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Half of the 20 essays cover events that preceded the Civil War, such as the Salem witchcraft trials and the Amistad case, while the other half focus on more modern events, including Chief Joseph’s 1877 surrender to the Seventh Cavalry and an imagined conversation between John and Robert Kennedy on the subject of Vietnam. Exemplary pieces—by Joseph Ellis, on George Washington’s 1790 meeting with 27 chiefs of the Creek Nation; Jonathan Rabb, on the Scopes trial; and Clayborne Carson, on the March on Washington—effectively mix factual accounts with conjecture about unrecorded events. Others have the feel of a school history assignment, and a few explore events that, while significant, hardly “changed America.” Pieces about an 11th-century trip to the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia and the 1850 American debut of world-renowned soprano Jenny Lind lack dramatic impact.

Well-written but mixed collection: some substantial contributions, others self-indulgent.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51619-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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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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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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