A superb, densely detailed complement to William Vollmann’s poetic/fictional treatment The Dying Grass (2015), of compelling...




A chronicle of the white conquest of the inland Northwest at the expense of native peoples defeated in a war that even the newcomers recognized to be unjust.

Oliver Otis Howard enjoyed mixed success—but mostly failure, it seems—as an officer in the Army. At Gettysburg, his command suffered such heavy losses that he was summarily replaced by a junior officer, which, recounts Sharfstein (Law and History/Vanderbilt Univ.; The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, 2011), left him “mortified.” A leading agent of Reconstruction, Howard failed to avert Jim Crow. He was unwanted during the Spanish-American War, but he haunted the military camps as a kind of evangelical candy striper. In between, he commanded a badly conducted campaign against the Nez Perce Indians of the Northwest, led by a man named Chief Joseph, who, though not a war chief, had plenty of experience tangling with white invaders. Sharfstein looks at that well-studied campaign in light of those framing events, seeing westward expansion and the Indian Wars as a continuation of the nation’s growing militarism, which closed off the century with war against Spain. The author contrasts Howard, a sometimes-competent, often self-doubtful man, with one of his junior officers, who went from fighting the Nez Perce in a savage war—as Sharfstein writes, “there was nothing abstract about the dead,” scalped, mutilated, and blackened in the hot sun—to becoming a fierce critic of American imperialism. Even there, notes the author, the oppositional argument was tainted with social Darwinist ideas, warning against “the dangers of absorbing ‘an Asiatic population of mixed blood,’ millions of ‘yellow, naked mongrels’ and coolie laborers.” Mixed with exciting set pieces—battles, treaty negotiations, oratory over whose rightful land it was—and bolstered by impressive archival research, Sharfstein’s story unfolds as a swift-moving narrative of tragic inevitability.

A superb, densely detailed complement to William Vollmann’s poetic/fictional treatment The Dying Grass (2015), of compelling interest to any student of 19th-century American history.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-23941-6

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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