Compelling narratives with a personal voice, with some utopian political bite.




A journalist and author drives his truck around the East visiting utopian communities—past and present—and concludes we need to think more like those folks.

Currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky, Reece (An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God, 2009, etc.) is, as he acknowledges, a restless soul who loves hopping in his truck and going where his considerable curiosity dictates. After a brief introduction to utopian thinking, the author chronicles his visit to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a former Shaker community. In this chapter, we see the pattern that characterizes the others: an intermingling of history with assessments of current status, riffs on why the community eventually failed, and thoughts on what we could learn from the utopians; later, he adds comparisons—e.g., how does community F differ from or resemble communities A-E? Some names serving as touchstones pop up continually: historian Walter Benjamin, poet Wendell Berry. Also popping up are some usage issues: a couple of instances of “revert back” and “sojourn” misused as a synonym for “journey.” Reece is a most gracious guest during visits: respectful, inquisitive, and appreciative of the current community of Acorn (in Virginia), where nudity thrives. The places he profiles include the expected (New Harmony, Indiana; Oneida, New York) and some generally unfamiliar areas: Monk’s Pond, in Kentucky; Utopia, Ohio—precious little remains; Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York). Throughout, Reece provides swift surveys of the lives of various principals: Thoreau at Walden Pond, Josiah Warren on Long Island, and Oneida’s John Humphrey Noyes, who personally delivered the sexual initiation of girls in his community. Later, Noyes fled to Canada, pursued by a statutory rape charge, and Reece ends by following Noyes’ route to Niagara Falls and ruminating about what he sees as our current ruinous economic and social policies.

Compelling narratives with a personal voice, with some utopian political bite.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-10657-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner



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

Did you like this book?