Sehat provides food for thought in a sometimes acidic tone, as he unmasks and attacks the moral establishments across...



In this weighty text spanning all of American history, Sehat (History/Georgia State Univ.) argues that despite an overarching narrative of religious freedom, the United States has never truly practiced freedom of religion, rightly understood.

Instead, a moral establishment, marked by Protestantism, has continually attempted to squash dissent and the voice of other faiths. For the most part, it has been quite successful. The author points to early court cases, such as those on blasphemy, to suggest that even in the first years following the ratification of the Constitution, Christian viewpoints stood as de facto law. The abolitionist and suffragist movements both posed unique challenges for the moral establishment, which Sehat defines as “the creation of an active religious minority who believed that God had established moral norms, and that it was incumbent upon them to enforce those norms through law.” As the slavery question was settled, the establishment began to practice a moral superiority over freed blacks, while continuing to fight women’s rights. Into this late-19th-century setting entered two other challenges, Catholicism and Mormonism, which sought religious freedom and parity yet were continually denied it. The American narrative throughout these eras, and into the 20th century, spoke of religious liberty, yet Sehat argues that this concept was mere fancy. The reality was far more complex and volatile. “Protestants wanted a connection between religion and the state,” writes the author, “that relied on both a common nonsectarian Christianity and an institutional separation between church and state while still protecting absolute religious freedom. This was an impossible position.” The author argues that in order to move ahead as a society marked by true freedom of religion, it is imperative to recognize that such freedom has not actually existed in the history of American culture and law.

Sehat provides food for thought in a sometimes acidic tone, as he unmasks and attacks the moral establishments across American history.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-19-538876-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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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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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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