Overall, she has produced a well-organized work of thoughtful popular history that displays considerable wit and verve, and...

WHAT IS MARRIAGE FOR?

Why wed? As a financial investment? To have sex? To reproduce the species? To link two families together? This highly informative and enjoyable romp through the history of marriage in Western Europe and the United States looks at all these reasons and more.

Graff, a Boston-based journalist who has written for such diverse publications as the New York Times, Ms., and Out, has organized her book into six thematic chapters, entitled “Money,” “Sex,” “Babies,” “Kin,” “Order,” and “Heart.” Her progression is telling, for part of Graff’s story concerns the long evolution of marriage from an investment in property (including the bride’s womb) and security to what she refers to as the “compassionate marriage.” A second major theme is the growth of women’s rights, both in the decision to wed another—the Roman wedding ceremony usually involved an exchange of statements between the groom and his father-in-law—and, far more recently, in terms of property and custody of children in case of divorce. Tracing three broad religious perspectives, Graff, perhaps somewhat simplistically, notes the premodern Catholic antimarriage focus on celibacy, the early Protestant celebration of marriage, provided it involved “reproduction,” and the distinctly modern Jewish emphasis on “refreshment” (promarriage and prosex for the purpose of happiness and intimacy). She occasionally digresses a bit too long from her main themes, as when discussing the 19th-century Mormon practice of polygamy. While she has done a great deal of research, she covers so much religion and social and legal history that, inevitably, she cites some dubious statistics ("roughly 20 percent of adult women report having been sexually abused as children") and occasionally simplifies a religious law or historical practice. Graff also argues persuasively, if too repetitively, for the validity of gay and lesbian marriage.

Overall, she has produced a well-organized work of thoughtful popular history that displays considerable wit and verve, and that is in equal measure instructive and entertaining.

Pub Date: June 28, 1999

ISBN: 0-8070-4114-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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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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