Like the expedition itself, a work of stringent epistemological curiosity and research.

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BITTER WATERS

AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN NAVAL MISSION TO THE DEAD SEA

An intriguing, thorough study of a little-known scientific expedition to the Dead Sea by a mid-19th-century U.S. Navy lieutenant.

Bain (Literature/Middlebury Coll.; The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West, 2004, etc.) unearths the facts of this 1848 expedition to the Holy Land, made big news at the time before being eclipsed by buzz of the Gold Rush. Only a handful of Westerners had actually explored the Dead Sea region—most to unfortunate outcomes—before Lt. William Francis Lynch set off. Lynch, a seasoned sea salt from Virginia, was steeped in bestselling travel memoirs of the Levantine regions by John Lloyd Stephens and Edward Robinson, and proposed to the Secretary of the Navy an expedition to the Dead Sea. The purpose was to take its measurements and thereby “advance the cause of science and gratify the whole Christian world.” Added to the Dead Sea’s elusiveness was its grim biblical associations as the place that had swallowed up in sulphur and smoke the five cities of the Vale of Siddim smote by Jehovah—namely Admah, Zeboiim, Zoar, Sodom and Gomorrah. (“Lot’s wife looked back as they fled to Zoar and became a pillar of salt.”) Vastly salty, prohibiting anything from growing in it, the sea marked the lowest point on earth, without an outlet but fed by the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee. Down the river careened the small expedition in two lifeboats, including Lynch, draftsman John B. Dale, several “young, muscular, native-born Americans” and invaluable Arab helpers; they passed ruins of Crusader fortresses and Bedouin villages, and were occasionally accosted by pilgrims. Bain amply extracts from Lynch’s journal, depicting this mysterious, desolate, intensely moving place. Also included are Dale’s drawings, which hold an eerie, fanciful charm.

Like the expedition itself, a work of stringent epistemological curiosity and research.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59020-352-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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