An enligihtening work of social history that makes a now familiar feature of the American landscape the focus of an exploration of 19th-century perceptions of progress, politics, and the common good. In 1817, when the first spadeful of dirt was overturned in upstate New York for the Erie Canal, crowds were festive, those present united in the call to ``finish God's work in shaping the New World.'' In 1862, when the widening of the 363-mile waterway built to connect Albany and Buffalo was completed, no celebration was held: The public was not only used to the convenience of this great accomplishment, but ready to move on to a more advanced form of transportation—the railroad. Yet Sheriff (History/Coll. of William and Mary) does more than trace the ways this artificial waterway became ``second nature.'' In well-structured chapters she shows how the Erie Canal changed Americans' views about property, business ethics, and labor. Damages to land along the canal, for instance, led to the assessment of land in terms of market, rather than agricultural, value. Particularly informative is Sheriff's history of how the canal reflected the rising public debate over ideas during the antebellum period, focusing on public morality, republicanism, and especially the common good, which in large part came to mean serving the needs of wealth-producing business. Sheriff is best in drawing episodes to illustrate such situations—the changing perception of ``canallers,'' the development of the Democratic and Whig parties. She is less successful in bringing to life some of the influential individuals of the day, like New York State governor DeWitt Clinton. Though lacking the humanist expansiveness that adds literary heft, this study succeeds in providing early examples of some still unresolved problems of a capitalist democracy—the place of the worker and the responsibilities of state and business to a community. (drawings and maps, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8090-2753-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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