A vivid recounting of imperial America’s shameful past.



America extends far beyond the mainland.

In a richly detailed, thoroughly researched history, Immerwahr (History/Northwestern Univ.; Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development, 2015) chronicles the vast American empire from its vigorous westward expansion on the mainland to its reach around the world. Drawing on archival sources and much scholarship, the author engagingly depicts the nation’s conquests, first displacing Native Americans, followed by the claiming of uninhabited islands, the spoils of war, and strategic locations. By World War II, territories comprised nearly one-fifth of America’s land area. Unacknowledged by most mainland citizens, these possessions have been relegated “to the shadows,” with the populaces, at various times, “shot, shelled, starved, interned, dispossessed, tortured, and experimented on.” America’s early forays abroad led to the annexation of small uninhabited islands—nearly 100 of them—that were piled high with bird droppings, coveted as fertilizer. In 1898, Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War brought a bounty: the Philippines (which the U.S. bought), Puerto Rico, Guam (which came free), and Cuba, which the U.S. occupied under military control. Later, the Virgin Islands, Samoa, and various other sites in the Pacific became American territories, which today comprise around 4 million people “who have no representation in Congress, who cannot vote for president, and whose rights and citizenship remain a gift from Washington.” Immerwahr animates the narrative with a lively cast of characters: brusque, egocentric physician Cornelius P. Rhoads, for example, who conducted medical experiments on Puerto Ricans, whom he deemed “the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere.” Standing up for colonists’ rights—often to their frustration—were Ernest Gruening, governor of the territory of Alaska, and Douglas MacArthur, who led troops in the Philippines during WWII. Although the U.S. has divested itself of colonies, not needed in an era of economic globalization, the nation has invested heavily in military bases, which today number around 800. “The Greater United States,” the author notes, “is in everyone’s backyard.”

A vivid recounting of imperial America’s shameful past.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-17214-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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