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

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HOW MANHATTAN DEFINED AMERICAN SOPHISTICATION—FROM THE ALGONQUIN ROUND TABLE TO TRUMAN CAPOTE'S BALL

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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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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