Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia (1966) remains the unsurpassed popular history of the Convention, but...

THE SUMMER OF 1787

THE MEN WHO INVENTED THE CONSTITUTION

A careful account of how the Founders fashioned America’s central document.

Only a decade after gaining independence from Britain, the 13 colonies found their loose alignment under the Articles of Confederation utterly deficient. They were unable to levy taxes, regulate trade, settle border and navigational disputes, raise a military or issue a common currency. A taxpayer revolt turned bloody in Massachusetts and the still formidable threat of Spain and England in North America helped accelerate calls to amend the Articles. During a humid Philadelphia summer and under a rule of secrecy, 55 delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island demurred) exceeded their authority, scrapped the unwieldy Articles and wrote instead a charter of government for and by the people. Attorney Stewart focuses on how this “assembly of demi-gods” (Jefferson’s phrase) reconciled the vast differences among the states—large vs. small, slave vs. free, agricultural vs. mercantile—and adjusted federal and state powers accordingly. Two towering figures, Washington and Franklin, lent their prestige to the convention. With the exceptions of Madison and Hamilton, history’s notice of the rest (the likes of Gouverneur Morris, Roger Sherman, David Brearley and three distinguished dissenters, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry and Edmund Randolph) centers on their contributions to the convention’s unprecedented deliberations. Stewart touches lightly on the delegates’ personalities; he’s at his best discussing the wrangling that resulted in a document simultaneously “the child of lofty idealism and rough political bargains.” The delegates didn’t get everything right. The notorious three-fifths rule embedded slavery in the charter; it required a civil war to expunge this injustice, and the Founders’ conception of the presidency has been frequently, though less violently, amended. Still, history’s first written constitution has proven remarkably durable.

Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia (1966) remains the unsurpassed popular history of the Convention, but Stewart’s highly readable narrative need defer to little else.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-7432-8692-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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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 Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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