Franklin scholars and students of the revolutionary era should take a look—but overall you’d do better to turn to Gordon S....

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RUNAWAY AMERICA

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, SLAVERY, AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

A Founding Father previously considered blameless comes in for hard scrutiny and is found wanting for his role in the slave trade.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the wealthiest Americans of his time, probably the wealthiest of those who did not inherit their fortunes. Much of his wealth came from newspaper publishing—and much of the income within that realm came from publishing notices of slave auctions and of runaway slaves. In the 1730s, Franklin recorded in his Autobiography, he set about acquiring the habits of mind and work that would make his fortune; adds Waldstreicher (History/Notre Dame; In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes, not reviewed), Franklin also acquired his first African-American slaves during that time, and for the rest of his life he would count humans among his possessions, using them to build his fortune as well. Unlike Walter Isaacson, according to whose Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) Franklin came to see the incompatibility of slavery with revolutionary ideals, Waldstreicher depicts Franklin as more conflicted, only half-inclined to abolitionism while more than half-inclined toward the status quo. Indeed, Waldstreicher suggests, it is possible to argue that Thomas Jefferson “did more to undermine slavery during the era of the American Revolution than did Franklin”: whereas Franklin “projected the blame for slavery onto England and the West Indies,” Jefferson acknowledged that it had homegrown origins and “almost succeeded in closing the Northwest Territories to slaveholders.” This assertion, readers of Roger Kennedy’s Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause (2003) and Garry Wills’s “Negro President” (2003) will recognize, is controversial. Other readers will wonder at Waldstreicher’s worry that Franklin was hypocritical for keeping and profiting from slaves while publicly opposing slavery (though “he still kept his few strong statements about the wrongs suffered by Africans for the ears of the already converted”), as did so many of Franklin’s generation.

Franklin scholars and students of the revolutionary era should take a look—but overall you’d do better to turn to Gordon S. Wood’s Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (p. 264).

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2004

ISBN: 0-8090-8314-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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