Roughly 60 to 70 pages on each of the four political crises, filled with speeches, letters, editorials, polemics, debates,...

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A SOVEREIGN PEOPLE

THE CRISES OF THE 1790S AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN NATIONALISM

A historian offers a “closer look at the 1790s” designed to “remind us that nationalism and patriotism once carried more positive meanings—and give us reason to believe they can do so again.”

In 1789, when the war hero George Washington became the first president, everyone expected great changes. They were not disappointed, writes Berkin (Emerita, History/Baruch Coll.; The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties, 2015, etc.) in this insightful political history of the following decade. Washington and his supporters may have called themselves Federalists, but Berkin astutely notes that they were nationalists. They had written the Constitution and fought for ratification, and they wanted to make it work. They eventually succeeded after overcoming four bitter crises, which the author recounts at great length. No one realized how much the 1791 excise tax on distilled spirits would upset frontier farmers, who protested, often violently. Washington fumed at this “whiskey rebellion” for three years before crushing it. In 1793, Edmond Charles Genet, the “young and brash” new French minister, began aggressively recruiting Americans to support France’s war against Britain. This outraged Washington’s administration, but by year’s end, he had self-destructed. The XYZ Affair is remembered as America’s refusal to pay the corrupt French government a bribe. In truth, American diplomats dithered for months before deciding that there would be no quid pro quo. Opponents denounced the 1798 Aliens and Sedition Act as an attack on free speech. Controversy during its short, stormy life centered on interpreting the Constitution, which, Berkin emphasizes, showed that Americans had begun taking it seriously.

Roughly 60 to 70 pages on each of the four political crises, filled with speeches, letters, editorials, polemics, debates, and legislation, may daunt some readers, but Berkin makes a reasonable case that the Founders’ resolve left the U.S. a viable nation.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-06088-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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