Both a rollicking recap of the Roaring ’20s and a cautionary tale about how a government’s attempts to legislate and monitor morality are nearly always doomed.

Book- and magazine-publishing veteran Okrent (Public Editor #1: The Collected Columns (with Reflections, Reconsiderations, and Even a Few Retractions) of the First Ombudsman of The New York Times, 2006, etc.)—former editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Time and an editor at Knopf, Viking and Harcourt—joined forces early with filmmaker Ken Burns, and his new book will be prominently featured in a 2011 Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary about Prohibition. The author assembles a phenomenal cast of characters who emerged during Prohibition’s conception, birth, swift life and death. Evangelist Billy Sunday, P.T. Barnum, Jack London, hatchet-wielding Carry Nation, Wayne Wheeler (of the Anti-Saloon League), Jane Addams, Warren G. Harding, Andrew Mellon, Eliot Ness, Al Capone, Andrew John Volstead and countless others strutted across the stage and then, frequently, disappeared. Okrent muses about the evanescent fame/notoriety of Wheeler, for example, who for a time made Senators tremble and was among the most powerful men in America—but who’s heard of him now? The author skips around the country to examine the vast dimensions of the crime, corruption and plain disregard for the law that ensued when the 18th Amendment went into effect in January 1920. Liquor flowed in from Canada; entrepreneurs took drinkers on long Caribbean cruises; mom and pop got prescriptions for “medicinal” alcohol from physicians benefitting from kickbacks; racism and xenophobia reigned; Catholic churches and other religious institutions suddenly needed much more wine for rituals; and brewers and blenders tried near-beers and grape juices. In addition, the tax coffers emptied while gangsters bathed in liquidity. It took the Depression to help end it all—and the pervasive realization that only criminals were winning. Okrent’s style is bracing and wry, his research is vast and impressive and his insight is penetrating.


Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7432-7702-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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