An illuminating chapter in the history of African-American family life, and in the American story generally.



A welcome sequel, of sorts, to Ball’s well-received Slaves in the Family (1998).

In the former study, journalist Ball examined the interwoven histories of his South Carolinian family and the descendants of slaves his ancestors once held. Here, Ball focuses on one many-branched family, the Harlestons, founded in the 1840s in what was once termed an act of miscegenation between the white farmer William Harleston and a slave named Kate Wilson. Both parties suffered ostracism for the union, and their children were denied legal recognition and public schooling. Forever outsiders—Ball writes of photographs of them, “There is pride in the way they hold themselves, but in their eyes there is a gleam of insecurity, as though something about life isn’t right”—the Harleston children and their descendants went on to make distinguished careers, joining the lower ranks of the “colored aristocracy.” One became a mortician, founding a business confined, owing to 19th-century Jim Crow laws, to an African-American and mixed-race clientele. The mortician’s daughter married a minister who organized the orphans under his charge into musical groups; the minister earned a handsome living from the receipts, while some of the orphans, such as Freddie Green and Jabbo Smith, went on to play with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Other Harleston descendants and kin became writers, composers, and painters, making their mark in Harlem and Paris as well as Charleston. If any of them were ordinary, Ball doesn't say, though he takes care not to idealize. Throughout, he writes affectingly of their unusual hardships, as well as the difficulties of some descendants, even today, in claiming kinship across once sharply marked ethnic boundaries.

An illuminating chapter in the history of African-American family life, and in the American story generally.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-688-16840-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?