MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN AND THE BATTLE FOR AMERICA

A provocative overview of the life and afterlife of one of American literature’s most important texts.

Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a battered reputation, not least in the way the term “Uncle Tom” has become an epithet for somebody who sells out his own race. But Reynolds (English and American Studies/City Univ. of New York; Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, 2008, etc.) successfully repositions the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) as a major political work, crucial not just to the abolitionist movement, but as kindling for the Civil War and an important inspiration to cultural discussions of race relations through most of the 20th century. In the early chapters, Reynolds examines aspects of Stowe’s character that inspired the book: a brand of Christianity that made her sympathetic to abolitionism, an intuitive understanding of adventure stories that captured the public imagination and a sentimental style that prompted readers to rethink their prejudices without feeling provoked. That last element earned Stowe a reputation as a soft antislavery agitator, but there’s no question Uncle Tom’s Cabin struck a chord. It sold so well, in fact, that it inspired a whole shelf of anti-Stowe novels; among the most prominent was Thomas Dixon Jr.’s novel The Clansman, which in turn inspired D.W. Griffith’s “adeptly made yet thematically abhorrent film The Birth of a Nation.” But Uncle Tom’s Cabin influenced the civil-rights movement as well. In the decades after the Civil War, there were few communities that hadn’t seen a “Tom play,” a stage version of the novel. Reynolds somewhat soft-pedals how these plays perpetuated racist stereotypes, but it’s clear that Uncle Tom himself largely retained his status as a symbol of nonviolent resistance, not self-denying passivity. To that end, Stowe’s vision endured, as seen in the acts of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists for racial equality. In showing how that sentiment played out not just in the novel and plays but in Shirley Temple films, Mickey Mouse cartoons, magazines ads, Roots and more, Reynolds defends Stowe’s influence, even if that influence was frustratingly slow. A sharp work of cross-disciplinary criticism that gives new power to a diminished novel.

 

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-08132-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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