Compulsively readable, with familiar events and people grown fresh in the telling.

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THE FIFTIES

In The Best and the Brightest, The Powers That Be, and The Reckoning, Halberstam proved that he can master intimidating subjects with aplomb—and in this massive tome on a convulsive decade in American life, he meets with equal success.

Such a sprawling panorama can't be depicted coherently without selective use of material, and some of Halberstam's omissions are open to question. While rightly lingering over McCarthyism and the development of the atomic bomb, he skims over Communism's advances in Eastern Europe and China in the late 40's, leaving an inadequate sense of why Americans yielded so readily to national-security hysteria during the period. Halberstam also fails to explain fully America's role in reviving the postwar economies of Japan and Western Europe. And why is there nothing on the advances that put air travel in reach of the average American? Nevertheless, Halberstam keeps his narrative tightly focused by concentrating on the era's human instruments of change, including some famous (Eisenhower, Elvis, Brando, Kerouac, Milton Berle, et al.) and others more obscure (Kemmons Wilson and Dick and Mac McDonald, founders of, respectively, Holiday Inn and McDonald's). In this often "mean time" of redbaiting, change still managed to burst out, with the invention of the Pill, the moves by Japan and Germany to undercut GM's preeminence in the auto industry, and the assault on legalized segregation. Halberstam finds at the heart of this decade of social, political, and economic innovation a deep split between an acceptance of change and a yearning for earlier and simpler times, and he examines thoroughly how TV altered various aspects of American life—its recreation habits, its advertising, and, inevitably, its politics, through the medium's coverage of the Little Rock crisis and the JFK-Nixon debates.

Compulsively readable, with familiar events and people grown fresh in the telling.

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 0449909336

Page Count: 684

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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