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



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...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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