Despite occasional stalls along the narrative path, the book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways...




Quick: Who built the interstate highway system? If you answered President Eisenhower, then you’re not even half-right, writes Swift (The Tangierman’s Lament: and Other Tales of Virginia, 2007, etc.).

The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, as it’s formally known, was inaugurated during the Eisenhower years, of course, when the lessons of Hitler’s autobahn system, able to bring troops here and evacuate citizens there, were fresh in mind for those now engaged in the Cold War. Yet, writes the author, “Franklin Roosevelt had a greater hand in its creation than Eisenhower,” and even the ignoble Warren G. Harding and the hapless Herbert Hoover moved it along. But Swift reserves much of his account for men—almost always men—we’ve never heard of, most born in the days of horse and buggy or bicycle and enthralled by the possibilities of getting from one coast to the other in days if not weeks rather than months. One of his heroes, for instance, spent his early years contemplating how his native state of Iowa came to a halt during the thaw, when erstwhile dusty and then snow-covered roads turned into a thick mud the locals called “gumbo.” And then, of course, there is legendary terraformer Robert Moses, well studied in the literature, to whom Swift imparts a huffy malevolence that a Caesar would have admired. A little of this goes a long way, though, and Swift too often bogs down in the minutiae of admittedly fascinating stuff—fascinating, that is, if you’re a fan of the Wolfgang Schivelbusch school of how-things-came-to-be history, an acquired taste. The best parts of the book come when Swift injects Blue Highways notes into the enterprise and prefers the personal to the textbook-ready, as when he relates a cross-country trip with a preteen daughter and her friend that went better when they left the tranquil back roads and joined the flow: “On the old Lincoln, we’d tooled along. On U.S. 30, we toured. On I-80, folks were hauling ass.”

Despite occasional stalls along the narrative path, the book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways ought to know these stories.

Pub Date: June 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-618-81241-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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