It may be impossible to write a dull book about Civil War battles, and this one is certainly enjoyable—but it’s history lite...

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THE MOST GLORIOUS FOURTH

VICKSBURG AND GETTYSBURG, JULY 4TH, 1863

Two Civil War victories by the Union make this date the most important July 4 in US history—quibblers should know that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on Independence Day.

Prolific historian Schultz (Quantrill’s War, 1996, etc.) offers a serviceable account of the two events accompanied by thumbnail biographies of the principle figures and a review of previous battles. Like most Americans, he sees the surrender of Vicksburg and the great battle in Pennsylvania as the beginning of the end for the South. Like all popular history, it’s not quite true. Despite four years of mostly Union defeats, the war east of the Mississippi remained a stalemate until near the end. On all other fronts, the South was in retreat from the first days. Yet any aspect of the Civil War possesses endless fascination and paradox. In the events of 1863, both leading generals seemed to switch historical roles. Grant, the brutal, straightforward slugger, fought the most brilliant campaign of the war in Mississippi. Cutting himself off from his supply line, he marched hundreds of miles through enemy country, winning half a dozen battles before laying siege to Vicksburg. At Gettysburg, Lee showed a puzzling lack of imagination, ordering repeated frontal assaults on well-defended positions. The author has written solid history in the past, but this is strictly mass-market entertainment and based largely on secondary sources. All traditional interpretations are accepted without question (Stonewall Jackson’s death doomed the South, Lee would have won Gettysburg if Longstreet had attacked on time). Traditional anecdotes appear in profusion. Women witness the carnage of battle and are horrified. Soldier after soldier has a premonition of death, and it’s never wrong.

It may be impossible to write a dull book about Civil War battles, and this one is certainly enjoyable—but it’s history lite nonetheless.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04870-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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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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