From a body of work stretching back seven decades, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian selects 17 essays on characters large and small who illuminate early American history.

Morgan (The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America, 2004, etc.) offers something new about well-known public heroes, identifying, for example, those issues over which the famously pragmatic Benjamin Franklin refused to compromise. The author shows how John Winthrop’s exhortations to the Bay colonists brought “disagreements to a happy issue,” preventing a Jamestown-style collapse, and why Anne Hutchinson’s dissent, while attractive to our modern sensibilities, posed such a serious threat to the Puritans. He also pens a superb 40-page sketch of William Penn’s character and career. Morgan excels, though, at limning lesser-known figures. He traces the tortuous marital history of Puritan heiress Anna Keayne, examines the Puritan caricature Michael Wigglesworth, assesses the historical reputations of Yale presidents Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight and toasts the courage of Giles Corey and Mary Easty, who nearly died for their refusal to submit to Salem’s witchcraft madness. The author also demonstrates that groups can be heroes: the Arawak Indians of Hispaniola, whose demise constitutes the sad first chapter of the European transformation of the Western Hemisphere; the Antifederalists, whose important opposition to the Constitution’s ratification led to the Bill of Rights. This uniformly strong collection boasts an insightful, even startling, observation—“Government requires make-believe”—on nearly every page. If the concluding appreciation of Harvard’s famed historian Perry Miller seems out of place, Morgan may be forgiven for honoring a man who, like Morgan himself, has left us with the “record of a mind” that has thought deeply and creatively about our history.


Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-07010-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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