A thoughtful look at a long-ago era when America seemed egalitarian and prosperous.

PROMISED LAND

HOW THE RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS TRANSFORMED AMERICA, 1929-1968

A history of “the rise of the middle class as a defining feature of American society from the 1930s to the 1960s.”

In the mid-20th-century, middle-class Americans saw their position as timeless and natural. Few believe that now, and political scientist Stebenne has written a provocative account of their rise and fall. He reminds readers that until well into the last century, farming was a grueling life, and wages in factories, mines, mills, and offices did not support a bourgeois lifestyle. Matters began changing between the wars. The author begins with Herbert Hoover, whose winning 1928 election campaign emphasized the nation’s march toward prosperity. His personality ill-equipped him to handle the Depression, an accusation no one makes against his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, whose programs, conservatives insist, did not end massive unemployment. Stebenne agrees and admits that many New Deal programs flopped, but others laid the groundwork for the postwar middle-class explosion. Among these were farm subsidies, business regulation, bank reform, housing legislation, social security, encouragement of labor unions, and a graduated income tax to pay for it. In 1945, civilians had savings that they yearned to spend, so the depression everyone expected when returning soldiers flooded the job market never happened. By the 1950s, prosperity seemed the norm, although it was a white, suburban family prosperity with a male head of household. The impoverished minority seethed, and dissatisfaction swelled among intellectuals and activists. Few doubt that the 1960s saw the end of the good times. Stebenne blames the Vietnam War, the revival of organized, free-market conservatism (“born out of opposition to [John F.] Kennedy’s efforts to sustain and expand the existing system through diplomacy abroad and activist government at home”), and competition from Europe and Asia, now recovered from the devastation of World War II, which stimulated businesses to move to the low-wage south and then across the sea.

A thoughtful look at a long-ago era when America seemed egalitarian and prosperous.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0270-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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