An excellent study that complicates the heroic portrayal of the Revolution.




A pox-centric history of the American Revolution.

If not for variola major, the virus that causes smallpox, the American colonies may have achieved independence from Britain a lot sooner. Fenn (History/George Washington Univ.) contends that the sickness, especially in the early days of the Revolution, was one of General George Washington’s worst enemies. In two major battles at the outset of the war—in Boston and Quebec—it almost ruined the Continental Army, which was composed of American-born recruits who had not developed immunity to the Old World virus. British troops and German mercenaries, on the other hand, were almost always immune. The author deals with the enormous organization required to handle soldiers who contracted the disease. Inoculation was proven to work in the late-18th century, but it knocked out those inoculated for a few weeks, hardly the best situation for an army on the move. When Washington finally ordered mass inoculations—rubbing a bit of flesh from a smallpox sufferer into a healthy person’s open wound—it was the first such mass public-health campaign in American history. Loyalist forces suffered also, however, including the British-backed Ethiopian Regiment, a force of freed slaves who, if they hadn’t been laid low by the pox, might well have turned the tide of the Revolution in the South. Fenn also uses smallpox to show how interconnected the world was in 1776: A pox epidemic that probably came from infected material or people from New Orleans started in Mexico City in 1779. Colonists moving throughout New Spain then spread it across North America, with cases cropping up in traders in the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. The real losers in the battle against smallpox were Native Americans, who were particularly susceptible to the virus because of their close genetic similarities. Most tribes had already suffered from smallpox before the Revolution, however, with at least one tribe dwindling in number from 100,000 to 17,000 between 1600 and 1680.

An excellent study that complicates the heroic portrayal of the Revolution.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8090-7820-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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A sleek, vital history that effectively shows how, “from the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the...


A concise, alternate history of the United States “about how people across the hemisphere wove together antislavery, anticolonial, pro-freedom, and pro-working-class movements against tremendous obstacles.”

In the latest in the publisher’s ReVisioning American History series, Ortiz (History/Univ. of Florida; Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, 2005, etc.) examines U.S. history through the lens of African-American and Latinx activists. Much of the American history taught in schools is limited to white America, leaving out the impact of non-European immigrants and indigenous peoples. The author corrects that error in a thorough look at the debt of gratitude we owe to the Haitian Revolution, the Mexican War of Independence, and the Cuban War of Independence, all struggles that helped lead to social democracy. Ortiz shows the history of the workers for what it really was: a fatal intertwining of slavery, racial capitalism, and imperialism. He states that the American Revolution began as a war of independence and became a war to preserve slavery. Thus, slavery is the foundation of American prosperity. With the end of slavery, imperialist America exported segregation laws and labor discrimination abroad. As we moved into Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, we stole their land for American corporations and used the Army to enforce draconian labor laws. This continued in the South and in California. The rise of agriculture could not have succeeded without cheap labor. Mexican workers were often preferred because, if they demanded rights, they could just be deported. Convict labor worked even better. The author points out the only way success has been gained is by organizing; a great example was the “Day without Immigrants” in 2006. Of course, as Ortiz rightly notes, much more work is necessary, especially since Jim Crow and Juan Crow are resurging as each political gain is met with “legal” countermeasures.

A sleek, vital history that effectively shows how, “from the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the United States Constitution.”

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8070-1310-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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