A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.

SHRINKING THE EARTH

THE RISE AND DECLINE OF AMERICAN ABUNDANCE

Eminent historian Worster (Emeritus, American History/Univ. of Kansas; A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, 2008, etc.) offers a concise, often elegiac account of the end of the American centuries.

The supremacy of the United States in world affairs in the last 100-odd years, writes the author, is the product of a kind of perfect-storm historical accident that will never come again: it presupposes the discovery of a hitherto-unknown if suspected landmass full of underused, if used at all, resources and peopled, if peopled at all, by inhabitants who are easy to conquer and control. “Such a discovery,” writes Worster sagely, “could happen only once in the earth’s history.” Given the exploitation of that newfound continent, not for nothing is the tutelary spirit of Worster’s book Jay Gatsby, that great denizen of the “empty, soulless mansions” that give onto a view of an “impoverished, polluted wasteland.” Our time is up because our natural riches have been so badly squandered. Even when it seemed as if they were inexhaustible, Worster notes, warnings were coming from the likes of the economist Adam Smith that there would come a time when the economy would attain stasis and could grow no further, absent the domination of other lands and markets. That talk of a “stationary state,” Worster notes, has long been anathema, and anyone who has dared suggest that the country, continent, and planet have natural limits has been branded a pessimist. The most sacred American mantra of the rising superpower was instead “growth,” even if that has been tempered by modern realities. And what realities they are: following the old pioneer trails westward, Worster invites us to “imagine what the western half of the continent may feel like in the year 2100 A.D.,” when water, perhaps the most precious resource of all, is scarce and the prairies and deserts are depopulated.

A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-984495-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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