First-rate thinking and writing. (6 b&w illustrations)

THE GENUINE ARTICLE

A HISTORIAN LOOKS AT EARLY AMERICA

A venerable historian considers and reconsiders topics ranging from slavery to the Constitution to the Founding Fathers.

Morgan (Emeritus History/Yale; Benjamin Franklin, 2002) displays in eminently impressive pieces (all of which appeared over the past 25 years in the New York Review of Books) not only his vast knowledge of early American history but also his transparent style and his generous reviewing philosophy. In only one of these 24 essays—the penultimate one, dealing with the Library of America’s 1999 collection of American sermons—does he wax wholly negative. (He calls it a “strange work” whose selection criteria baffle him.) Generally, Morgan endeavors to understand the author’s intent and then, in true NYRB fashion, expatiates. Nobody does it better. Divided into four parts (for each Morgan provides a sketchy, and perhaps superfluous, introduction), the collection begins with searching assessments of the Puritans. Acknowledging repeatedly his debt to former teacher Perry Miller, Morgan insists on the enduring importance of these folks in American culture and politics but reminds us (in a piece from 2002) that it is inaccurate to call the Massachusetts Bay Colony a theocracy: “The existence of real theocracies in the Near East today should call our attention to the care that New England Puritans took not to create one.” He discusses slavery and race with refreshing frankness (“The Big American Crime”) and describes clearly how, during the Seven Years’ War, the American Indians horrified their European allies with their ferocity (and cannibalism). Unsurprisingly, Morgan writes eloquently about Benjamin Franklin and the other Founding Fathers, offering an especially cogent piece on the significance of George Washington, who, after all, did not really distinguish himself on the battlefield and did not participate much in the creation of those seminal American declarations and documents. (A single caveat: the thematic—rather than chronological—arrangement can make it difficult to follow the evolution of Morgan’s remarkable mind.)

First-rate thinking and writing. (6 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-05920-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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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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