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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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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