A riveting history of the Civil War that argues convincingly that Congress got it right.




Abraham Lincoln led the nation, but Congress actually directed the Civil War; this fine history describes how.

Veteran historian Bordewich (The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government, 2016, etc.) writes that it was our elected legislators that raised an immense army, enacted the first draft, and pushed a reluctant Lincoln for “more aggressive generals, a harsher strategy against the South, and the recruitment of African Americans.” Congress financed the war and in the process created a national currency. Furthermore, “long before Lincoln became willing to contemplate the emancipation of slaves, members of Congress demanded it, enacting an incremental series of laws that turned abolitionism from a fringe belief into public policy.” Looking to the future, it passed the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act to build the transcontinental railroad, and the Land-Grant College Act, which created the state university system. A skilled storyteller, Bordewich builds his narrative around four congressmen. Perhaps his hero is Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, who, almost unique for his time, considered blacks the equal of whites. The others are Sen. Ben Wade of Ohio; William Fessenden of Maine, a conservative who gradually became militant; and Rep. Clement Vallandigham, a Northern Democrat sympathetic to the South with offensive racial views but considerable public support. Despite the absence of Southern members, Congress was not a like-minded body, and Bordewich delivers a steady stream of colorful, bitter, sometimes-humorous stories of the abuse that lawmakers exchanged, much of which—unlike more recent debates—led to useful legislation. Lincoln biographers portray him as a shrewd statesman in touch with public opinion but harassed by radical lawmakers. Bordewich’s Congress is on the side of the angels. Unlike the cautious president, Congress began in 1861 to foreshadow emancipation and showed less tolerance for phlegmatic generals who feared its Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War far more than their commander in chief.

A riveting history of the Civil War that argues convincingly that Congress got it right.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49444-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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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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