An intriguing but somewhat uneven exploration of things unseen.




“If you want to understand a place, ignore the boasting monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses.”

So begins Dickey’s (Creative Writing/National Univ.; Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith, 2012 etc.) exploration into the ghost stories of America and what they reveal about society. On his quest, the author examines every manner of haunted place, from houses like the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, which inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic romance of the same name, to haunted cities like New Orleans as well as asylums, cemeteries, battlefields, and haunted hotels. While not a new concept, Dickey’s theme has been more extensively explored where fairy tales and general folklore are concerned. In each location, the author reveals not only the ghost stories of the site, but also, most importantly, the site’s true history. This allows us to see how ghost stories often say “more about the tellers than they do about the supernatural.” Throughout history, ghost stories have been used to make money, offer a moral, mark a location, and explain the unexplainable, among many other functions. Interwoven throughout the narrative are the voices of writers and thinkers including Nabokov, Freud, Poe, Dickens, and Stephen King. Most revealing is the author’s examination of the logical factors that contribute to hauntings—e.g., hotels feel eerie because they are uncannily not home, and homes often feel haunted because they have been abandoned. While the histories of the locations are well-expressed, Dickey’s personal experiences can feel flat. The investigation feels especially poignant when he connects the nature of ghost stories to issues like race. Places like Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, where hundreds of black men, women, and children were tortured and buried, should surely offer up their share of ghosts, but most of the spirits have been white. “What does it mean to whitewash the spirits of a city?” Dickey asks. “Does Virginia have ghosts that it is not yet ready to face?”

An intriguing but somewhat uneven exploration of things unseen.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-98019-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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