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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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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