A thoughtful consideration of an overlooked but clearly central aspect of westward expansion.

PAPER TRAILS

THE US POST AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN WEST

Digital and spatial history are brought to bear on the settlement of the West.

“The American state’s violent campaigns were conducted with envelopes as well as rifles,” writes historian Blevins. First came the soldiers, and immediately behind them the letter carriers, developing a “gossamer network” that carried communications among settlements, forts, and centers of government. Drawing on highly granular maps and diagrams throughout, the author opens with a four-line missive from a government inspector who had mislaid an overcoat, bought a new one along the way, and wrote back to declare that the old one was fair game to anyone who found it. Though a seemingly unimportant letter, it speaks to “a network of post offices and mail routes that [connected] Saint Paul, Minnesota, to a remote government outpost in Dakota Territory.” The postal system became an essential component of the infrastructure, and by way of that postal system, settlers on the most remote frontiers could keep in touch with distant relatives and send money back and forth. By 1889, Blevins records, there were 59,000 post offices and some 400,000 miles of postal routes, much of that total overseen by semiofficial agents and contractors in a semiprivatized system that has been revived recently. The post office of yore, as the one of today, was also politicized, with postmasters appointed at the pleasure of the ruling party. So it was that a Republican postmaster proposed a revolutionary innovation, Rural Free Delivery, to link the countryside to industrial and commercial centers, but it would take an intervening Democratic postmaster and then another Republican one before it came into being. Still, Blevins writes, RFD has since “become a powerful symbol of the nation’s transition from its agrarian past into a modern, interconnected society.” Even today, in its decentralized form, the postal system plays a “crucial and underappreciated role within the modern American state.”

A thoughtful consideration of an overlooked but clearly central aspect of westward expansion.

Pub Date: April 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-005367-3

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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 concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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