Rich get richer, poor get poorer, and the ethical brakes to accumulation and the floodgates to generosity are all gummed up:...



British and South African journalist Cohen tours America and pulls Alexis de Tocqueville inside out, or perhaps simply pulls the wool from his eyes, in this sad song to the country’s economic disparities and ethical malaise.

Tracing the route that Tocqueville took 160 years earlier, with a kicker thrown in to Silicon Valley, Cohen is curious to see whether the defining elements in the national character discerned by the Frenchman—equal opportunity in the pursuit of wealth and a pronounced religious strain—still operate. Did the gentleness and compassion pertaining to equality still exist? Did it ever? Cohen’s answer: No. Back in the 1830s, any “equality of conditions,” in Tocqueville’s words, didn’t apply to blacks and Native Americans, whom Tocqueville had removed from the equation. Also, citing historian George Wilson Pierson, Cohen writes that Tocqueville was roaming the land “when a great humanitarian movement was just gathering way . . . the conscience of America was awake.” The author, on the other hand, discovers a nasty tear in the social fabric, a seismic shift in wealth that has undercut any empathy evidenced when there is a relative equality of material conditions, resulting in a jaundiced eye toward need, a widening income gap, and a level of poverty to steal your breath: In Flint, the poverty rate for children under 6 is 57%, whereas nationwide “an astounding 40 percent are living in poverty or near poverty.” Cohen does find that among churchgoers there is an equal split between progressives and conservatives, though certainly no consensus on how to reach out to the needy; and tellingly, one of the few areas of economic parity is on the gambling-house floor, where race and class matter not on the terrain of the “(un)even playing field.”

Rich get richer, poor get poorer, and the ethical brakes to accumulation and the floodgates to generosity are all gummed up: Tocqueville wore blinders, Cohen suggests, and the aspirants to the American Dream are fewer with each passing day.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26154-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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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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