A low-key family adventure finds mystery and meaning on the mighty Mississippi. In August 1995, Spurr (Steered by the Falling Stars, 1992) set out to retrace the voyage of French explorer Robert de La Salle, the first European to traverse the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Like La Salle’s 17th- century journey, Spurr’s is beset by missteps. One wonders how the editor of Practical Sailor magazine could be such a bumbler: He buys Pearl (“without a doubt the homeliest boat I’d ever seen,” Spurr recalls) only a week before his planned departure, leaving little time for much needed repairs—or for pinpointing how far he can go on a tank of gas (a critical calculation on the service-starved lower Mississippi). From his Rhode Island home, he drives to Chicago with 7-year-old son Steve, towing the 20-foot boat on a jerry-rigged trailer, burying its propeller in a truck’s radiator while backing into a McDonalds. Despite the slapstick start, Spurr salvages meaning from the trip. He’s searching for “pre-America,” looking for a glimpse of the virgin wilderness that greeted La Salle. He gets a steady dose in the awesome power of the river itself, and, more fleetingly, in the rare stretches of wilderness on the banks unmarred by settlement or industry. He forges a rather predictable bond with Steve and daughter Adria (who boards in St. Louis), and satisfies, anticlimactically, his “two decades’ quest for tangible proof of La Salle’s presence in North America, for an artifact of any sort that I could actually get my hands on . . .” with a side trip to visit Lee Politsch, keeper of the Ellington stone, a tablet believed to have been carved by La Salle in 1671. A curious flatness robs Spurr’s account of the grand adventurousness his trip seems to promise, leaving instead a sense of melancholy at the mess America has become. (25 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-4632-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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