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



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

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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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