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...


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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