A hugely fascinating episode in American history, told with insight and great humor, by an author in command of his subject.

1920

THE YEAR OF THE SIX PRESIDENTS

A rousing chronicle of the political year that saw six American presidents, past, present and future, vying simultaneously for high office.

Poised between the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and the ensuing decade that would earn itself the qualifier “roaring,” 1920 found Americans craving a pause, a return to the soothing “normalcy” of a bygone era. Who better fit the national mood than the thoroughly undistinguished Senator Warren G. Harding? After an intense primary season and many convention ballots, the Republican Party finally settled on the affable Ohioan and his law-and-order running-mate, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, choices made easier by the sudden death of the beloved TR, himself eyeing a comeback, and the one man capable of disturbing the party’s predilection for calm. Incumbent President Wilson, bedridden after a debilitating stroke, shed no tears over the death of his bitter enemy and unaccountably believed the Democratic Party would extend his discredited presidency by nominating him for an unprecedented third term. Instead, the party chose Ohio Governor James Cox, like Harding a former small-town newspaper editor, and for vice-president, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a charming fellow from New York, who came with the added advantage of that hallowed name Roosevelt: Franklin D. Only Herbert Hoover’s seeming desire to be anointed rather than nominated (he refused to disclose his party affiliation) kept this internationally acclaimed humanitarian from being a bigger factor in the race. Other figures who helped shape the political battle—Eugene Debs, Hiram Johnson, Leonard Wood, William McAdoo, A. Mitchell Palmer, Nicholas Murray Butler, Alfred E. Smith—are highlighted as well. Pietrusza (Rothstein: The Life Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, 2003) adds color and dimension with smart discussions of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, immigration, civil rights, the League of Nations and labor strife, and he offers animated portraits of William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Chapman Catt, Henry Ford, Marcus Garvey, Sacco and Vanzetti, William Randolph Hearst, H.L. Mencken and many others.

A hugely fascinating episode in American history, told with insight and great humor, by an author in command of his subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1622-3

Page Count: 544

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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