A careful dissection of Harry S. Truman’s improbable presidential win reveals just how far behind the eight ball “Give ‘em Hell Harry” really was.

Today, the 33rd president of the United States is popularly known as the irrepressible, silver-haired scrapper who dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and proclaimed, “The Buck Stops Here.” But as Pietrusza meticulously illustrates, that wasn’t necessarily the case in 1948. Quite the contrary, back then many viewed Truman as a profoundly flawed individual who was too weak and unqualified for the White House. He had ties to corrupt party bosses, was weaned on Jim Crow racism and couldn’t give a decent speech if his life depended on it. The famously false Chicago Tribune headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” indeed said it all—the little seat-warmer from Missouri who had inherited the White House following FDR’s death was not supposed to win in 1948. While rogue Democrats undercut him, nervous rank-and-file members sought his ouster. Rival Republicans circled for blood, and not one but two World War II heroes—Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower—loomed in the pack. The author fields each of these competing components deftly, building one on top of the other to weave a coherent, compelling narrative that illuminates the time while also raising implications for today’s political climate (as noted here, 1948 was the first time that television became a factor in politics). Much of the intrigue and brinkmanship involved in those party conventions of old has transformed, but the political considerations and closed-door dealing shaping potential nominees remain salient as ever. What the reader learns here is that the long-term veneer that often sticks to political figures always clouds the reality. And understanding what actually transpired is not only more important, but also far more intriguing. A skillful, authoritative investigation into one of the most famous presidential elections in U.S. history.


Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1402767487

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Union Square/Sterling

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2011

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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...


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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