At once simple, sharp and deftly executed.



A slow and careful reading of America’s founding document.

The Declaration of Independence, itself the product of many hands, addressed everybody: “a candid world” the signers presumed capable of judging the facts and approving the reasons that impelled the colonies to take the fateful step of separating from Britain. Allen (Social Science/Institute for Advanced Study; Why Plato Wrote, 2010, etc.) insists we take the signatories at their word and that we need not be steeped in history to comprehend a text that works simultaneously as an eloquent statement of philosophical principle and as a utilitarian memorandum. For more than a decade, the author has taught the Declaration to elite students and to adults in night school, and she maintains that “a willing mind and life experience” are sufficient for understanding the document. As if conducting a friendly conversation, sentence by sentence, she takes readers through all the text’s words, and she proves a patient, informed and friendly guide. By subordinating history—although she admits some history is required for a fuller understanding of the colonists’ list of grievances against King George III—and focusing on the philosophical, she easily demonstrates her thesis: that liberty and equality, “the twinned foundations of democracy,” are not necessarily in tension. Rather, she argues, they are inextricably linked, and if anything, “equality has precedence over freedom.” Readers prepared to quarrel with Allen’s judgment will need first to acknowledge her careful definition of the ideal of equality (scrupulously extracted from the Declaration’s own words) and to commit to a similarly rigorous textual analysis. Her dedication to slow reading forces us to pause and reconsider words we thought we knew—“self-evident,” “created equal”—words that eerily resonate—“swarms of officers”—and words whose full definitions continue to unfold more than 200 years after the nation’s birth.

At once simple, sharp and deftly executed.

Pub Date: June 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-87140-690-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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