Clio, the muse of history, smiles and nods her head on every page.

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THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE STAND FOR

A collection of speeches by the Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning historian and biographer.

Arranged chronologically, the texts of these speeches—most were university graduation talks—reveal both McCullough’s (The Wright Brothers, 2015, etc.) passion for history and his profound belief in America, or at least his vision of America, which is both encompassing and deeply hopeful. A number of significant historical figures appear throughout: John and Abigail Adams—McCullough, of course, published a Pulitzer-winning biography of John in 2001—John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. The author also focuses on some who are slightly less well known: Lafayette, Simon Willard (whose clock in the U.S. Capitol appears in both the first and last of McCullough’s speeches), Founder Benjamin Rush, and clergyman Manasseh Cutler, founder of Ohio University. Throughout, the author displays a sincere respect for subject and audience. For the graduation speeches, he researched local history and prominent figures to enliven his talk, and he spoke directly to the graduates, offering advice—e.g., read books, study history, quit saying “like” and “you know.” At the national venues (Monticello, the U.S. Capitol), he rehearses their history both with engaging details and sweeping paeans. McCullough is relentlessly positive. At Monticello, for example, he confines his comments about Jefferson’s slave owning to a single sentence, and in his account of the long friendship between France and the United States, he does not mention the Iraq War, “freedom fries,” etc. But, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “hope is the thing with feathers,” and it is that bird that swoops through all.

Clio, the muse of history, smiles and nods her head on every page.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7421-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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