A well-informed, often surprising, history of public veneration.

SMASHING STATUES

THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICA'S PUBLIC MONUMENTS

An art historian digs into a contentious subject.

Thompson, a professor of art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, offers a probing examination of the meaning of public monuments, long a vexed issue for Americans from the time that colonists beheaded a statue of King George III. Throughout the nation’s history, the author argues persuasively, powerful White Americans have erected monuments to underscore their authority and support their own interests. “Eighty-five percent of the more than four hundred Confederate monuments erected from 1886 to 1912 were in public spaces other than cemeteries,” writes Thompson. Not all of them featured war heroes. “By far the most common choice for Civil War monuments,” Thompson reveals, was “an anonymous, low-ranking soldier in parade rest,” conveying a message that obedience was crucial for Whites to prevail. Besides considering the overt messages of some prominent monuments, Thompson investigates the historical context and the artists’ beliefs, revealing some discomfiting facts. For example, a bronze statue entitled Freedom, located in the U.S. Capitol, was made by a slave owner and cast by one of his slaves. Stone Mountain, a vast monument in Georgia, was the product of the angry, paranoid sculptor Gutzon Borglum, for whom it was a moneymaking scam. A statue of Columbus featuring a “straight nose and strong jaw, was a visual argument for the whiteness—and therefore, the Americanness—of the artist’s fellow Italian Americans.” Thompson also discusses the recent protests and the fates of monuments that have been toppled or removed. Since those protests began, bills proposed in 18 states “would increase the criminal penalties for damaging a monument.” Furthermore, most monuments have been either moved or placed in storage to be erected in the future. “Shuffling statues around our cities is like moving an abusive priest to another parish,” Thompson asserts. Besides removing monuments, she suggests, new ones must be added to reflect the values—and the history—that Americans want to honor.

A well-informed, often surprising, history of public veneration.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-86767-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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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 concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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