A relentlessly depressing but revelatory and necessary historical account.



A frighteningly timely book about a particularly ugly period in American history, a bigotry-riddled chapter many thought was closed but that shows recent signs of reopening.

In his latest book, Okrent (Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 2010, etc.), the former managing editor of Life magazine and editor at large at Time Inc., chronicles a time when white-supremacist policymakers joined forces with pseudo-scientists promoting eugenics, creating widespread anti-immigration sentiment throughout the country. The author’s prodigious archival research covers the final decades of the 19th century and culminates in 1924, when Congress and President Calvin Coolidge passed the Johnson-Reed Act, the most restrictive immigration law in U.S. history; that act set quotas for various foreign nations. The formula used to determine the nation-by-nation numbers intentionally excluded not only would-be immigrants deemed inferior to white Christians, but also stranded people desperate to leave their home countries because of persecution and possible death. In the New York Times, one headline read, “America of the Melting Pot Comes to an End.” Much of the book focuses on policymaking, but Okrent does not stop there. One of the narrative’s great strengths is the author’s inclusion of dozens of minibiographies illuminating the backgrounds of the racist politicians and the promoters of phony eugenics “research.” Okrent keeps his personal commentary about these individuals to a minimum while presenting their biographies and the findings of their eugenics studies. Through the skilled, subtle use of language, however, Okrent makes clear that most of these immigration restrictionists were privileged bigots deserving of little respect. Sadly, there are few heroes in the book, though it’s certainly no fault of the author. Perhaps the most surprising villain is iconic book editor Maxwell Perkins. Legendary for his editing of novelists Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe, among many others, Perkins also edited two books by famed eugenicist Madison Grant, including The Passing of the Great Race, which argued for the superiority of the Nordic race.

A relentlessly depressing but revelatory and necessary historical account.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9803-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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