SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A CITY

CORRUPTION AND CONSCIENCE IN OLD NEW YORK

Four scholarly glimpses of 19th-century New York City, adding up to a dull but informative portrait of an urban community in search of its soul. Homberger (American Literature/Univ. of East Anglia) focuses on the ills that assailed New York City as a result of a population boom that quadrupled its population to nearly a million between 1830 and 1860. His first essay examines the ``Virgilian mode of social investigation'' conducted by 19th-century journalists, who portrayed the city as a Dantean underworld of hardened criminals, lost souls, and terrible torments. Reports by Jacob Riis and others prompted a public outcry against slums, with eerie echoes of the 1990s, including attempts to close down homeless shelters and relocate the poor. Simultaneously, the city went on a crusade against abortion—another campaign with ironic modern overtones. Homberger then turns to the sorry life of Richard Barrett Connolly, a.k.a. ``Slippery Dick,'' an Irish immigrant who became treasurer of New York during Boss Tweed's heyday and absconded to Europe with several million dollars when Tammany Hall collapsed. Earlier portraits of Connolly present a self-serving lout, but Homberger (John Reed, not reviewed) depicts a good man ground down by the machinations of corruption. After these forays into crime and misery, the author lets in the sun with his final study, which recounts the construction of Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted led the charge, designing a retreat that offered the city just what it needed: bucolic vistas, paths for quiet strolls, ponds for ice- skating. Central Park was an instant success, a glorious creation that ``truly represented the achievement of New York in this period''—from a modern perspective, the final irony in a book teeming with them. Less popular than H. Paul Jeffers's Commissioner Roosevelt (p. 905), which also limns the woes of old Manhattan: a painful reminder that New York was once a city on the rise.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1994

ISBN: 0-300-06041-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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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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