Gelderman (English/Univ. of New Orleans) departs from her usual genre of biography (Henry Ford, 1980; Mary McCarthy, 1988) in this thesis-driven history of speechwriting in the White House. The first half of her thesis—that presidents until Richard Nixon utilized a cadre of policymakers to double as speechwriters, thus uniting speechwriting with policy—is strong. Gelderman shows that, with varying degrees of effectiveness, presidents created policy through the speechwriting process itself, often taking months to draft their most famous words. The process was collegial, as with Eisenhower's ``Wheaties'' group, which drafted policy over breakfast every day. But with Nixon, media image, not substance, became the goal of the presidency. Nixon crafted his controversial speeches in isolation and kept key policy advisors in the dark. Gelderman's argument deteriorates in its post-Nixon passages. She identifies Nixon's heir as Ronald Reagan, which seems an odd choice, given Nixon's reputation as a workaholic who alienated his colleagues and Reagan's as a 9-to-5er who was content to let his aides do the work. The common ground, according to Gelderman, is the ``virtual presidency'': that is, the central importance to both leaders of image-crafting and the power of television. Gelderman claims that the reliance on TV has divorced policy from speechwriting and reduced the latter to the art of crafting attractive soundbites. But to prove this, she relies almost exclusively on foreign-policy issues, with little attention to domestic programs. She also shortchanges the Ford, Carter, and Bush administrations; Carter felt dishonest using speechwriters and wrote complex speeches. The author ultimately argues that Clinton is returning to the old marriage of speechwriting and policy (though here she bases her argument almost entirely on domestic issues, such as his masterful handling of the tragedy in Oklahoma City). An unfocused and unconvincing ending after a promising start.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8027-1318-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

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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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