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...


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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