UNION

THE STRUGGLE TO FORGE THE STORY OF UNITED STATES NATIONHOOD

A veteran foreign correspondent highlights the essential regional makeup of the U.S. through several historical personages who used their sectional differences to attempt to weld a national character.

How did a sense of a shared nationhood coalesce through so many sectional differences? First, Woodard, a state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald, delineates the mission of New England elite George Bancroft. Educated at Harvard and abroad in Germany, he was a failed teacher who supported himself in his wife’s family business before embarking on his great life’s scheme to write a history of the U.S. in terms of God’s plan for the unfolding of its triumphant mission of “popular sovereignty, equal justice, and a free economy.” While creating his decidedly blinkered American national myth—he utterly ignored Native and African Americans—his New England bias was criticized by Southerners. One of them was Charleston, South Carolina, native William Gilmore Simms, who serves as Woodard’s second model regional character. Simms was a wildly popular hack novelist of Southern fiction in which the masters were benevolent and the slaves so happy with their condition that they declined freedom. Dallying in politics, he went on to support some of the most die-hard secessionist and anti-Reconstructionist leaders. The third of the author’s primary characters is Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and joined the abolitionist movement of William Lloyd Garrison, then published his enormously popular autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in 1845. Woodard manages to bring all of his disparate biographical threads together in a coherent narrative, using as his apotheosis the life of Woodrow Wilson, Southern-born writer of his own Anglo Saxon–centered History of the American People and proponent of D.W. Griffith’s white supremacist film Birth of a Nation (1915); Wilson became president despite his racism. One glaring omission is the lack of at least one strong female presence; otherwise, the scholarship is sound.

Sturdy American history.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56015-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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