A sharp, dizzying history lesson that packs a punch.



A time capsule of 1980s media memorabilia and its relevance to contemporary society.

Born in 1975 and a proud child of the ’80s, In These Times senior editor and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist Sirota (The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington, 2008, etc.) ponders what it means when America has suddenly started “speaking the ancient 1980s dialect of my youth.” Growing up with two brothers, the author recalls all three emphatically employing the vernacular and lexicon of their “eighties religion” to maximum effect. Sirota’s mildly cathartic, socially significant revival posits that as the children of the ’80s reach middle age, the mindset of that era will resurface. His proof begins at “the altar of Michael J. Fox”—specifically, his character Alex Keaton on Family Ties. The author cleverly parallels President Obama’s confidence to the popularity of Michael Jordan, adding that many Republicans believe Obama to be the modern-day Jimmy Carter. The scope of the author’s period knowledge is indisputable, and he parlays his experience as a Democratic strategist into politically charged discussions about the anti-governmental preaching on The A-Team, Ronald Reagan’s questionable approach to Vietnam veterans and the bulletproof vigor of movies like Rambo, Red Dawn and Top Gun. While applauding the morale-boosting heft of Nike’s 1988 “Just Do It” campaign, Sirota evenhandedly criticizes today’s reality-TV–obsessed, attention-starved Facebook generation for its self-centeredness as something “the 1980s did to us, and what the 1980s mentally makes us want to be.” Footnotes accompany the author’s consistently effervescent text, underscoring his contention that everything from The Dukes of Hazzard to Thirtysomething has made a significant impact on contemporary society. Maybe most important is Sirota’s chapters on the impact The Cosby Show and others like it had on ’80s black America and, now, on Obama’s “postracial” image.

A sharp, dizzying history lesson that packs a punch.

Pub Date: March 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-345-51878-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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...


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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