A lively work of social history, full of surprises and memorable characters.




In which the capital of Old Blighty turns polymorphously perverse—and fascinatingly so.

Modern officials in Washington, D.C., or New York with an interest in retiring municipal deficits might take a hint from the London of the Kings George. There, writes architectural historian and TV presenter Cruickshank (The Story of Britain’s Best Buildings, 2003, etc.), around 1750, one in five women was “involved in some manner with the sex industry,” and any of them who kept a room paid ferociously high rents that in turn were taxed to the hilt. Even so, the British government made pennies compared to the pounds the city’s 60,000-plus prostitutes were turning over. Bawdy houses were scattered throughout London but were densely concentrated, perhaps ironically, off Maiden Lane and an area that Cruickshank calls the “sexual highway,” which included not just houses but also dark alleyways and wooded parks. The author uses the lens of sexual commerce to examine class relations and economic history, for the history of prostitution is always a history of the poor have-nots oppressed by a few haves. He examines the popular culture of the day, interpreting a series of William Hogarth prints as windows into attitudes that condemned prostitutes, suggesting “the penalty a harlot was supposed to pay for having lived an immoral life even when—as Hogarth acknowledged—it was really through no fault of her own.” Cruickshank notes that the ever censorious crowd, glad to murder monarchs and picnic at public executions, roundly hated homosexuality but despised sexual bullies even more. The author even makes a few suggestive hints about the book trade, observing that the popularity of Captain Cook’s accounts of voyaging in the South Seas may have been due to their titillating accounts of native sexual practices, which local houses of prostitution did their best to replicate.

A lively work of social history, full of surprises and memorable characters.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-65898-4

Page Count: 672

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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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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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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