Informative, racy and fun, but lacks the heft of a serious historical study.



Sassy celebration of the talented dames and gents who invented equal-opportunity Manhattan sophistication.

New Yorker and New York Times contributor and Broadway-musical maven Mordden (Ziegfield: The Man Who Invented Show Business, 2008, etc.) whisks readers through five crucial decades—1920s to ’60s—of New York’s golden era, when cultural refinement began to free itself from the shackles of aristocratic pedigree. The author writes with zesty society-page cattiness about a wide variety of characters, including Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker and other members of the Algonquin Round Table, hedonistic mayor Jimmy Walker, journalist and cultural power broker Walter Winchell, political columnist Dorothy Thompson, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Irving Berlin, John O’Hara and Truman Capote, among numerous others. The major thematic string tying all these pivotal figures together is Mordden’s concept of “New Yorkism,” which refers to an original multicultural melding of people and ideas—often thanks to gay, Jewish or African-American sources—whose collective exoticism helped make Manhattan into the cultural Mecca by the early to mid-20th century despite Middle America’s distrustful gaze. Mordden also gives ample space to the conservative front that opposed this culturally diverse scene: Neo-Nazi aviator Charles Lindbergh, The Stork Club’s Sherman Billingsley, Elsa Maxwell and others. Unfortunately, because achievement for nonaristocrats required a cutthroat ambition and ruthless self-preservation instinct, many of the author’s main subjects died alienated and alone. The author obviously has a few soft spots for Capote and the lavish Manhattan soirees that gave him the social prominence his own personality couldn’t, yet Mordden never considers the possibility that these indulgent parties eventually ruined Capote as a working writer. Then again, the author is more concerned with the lifestyle these artists and writers created for themselves than with the cultural products associated with their names.

Informative, racy and fun, but lacks the heft of a serious historical study.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-54024-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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