A work of admirable, if digressive, breadth, examining the endurance of the nation’s dream, even after the British pillaged...

WASHINGTON

THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN CAPITAL

Bordewich (Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, 2005, etc.) chronicles the painful creation of America’s capital city.

The early republic was “a crazy quilt of state jurisdictions,” writes the author, teetering on the brink of financial default and anxious about whether the new constitutional system would work. New York was capital by default, but the selection of a permanent site became a burning question. Seen by the world as “a measure of the young nation’s strength,” the capital should be a “Metropolis of America,” not only the seat of government, but also the nation’s greatest port and center of commerce—and of course completely unlike opulent European courts. Philadelphia was such a city, but it was a hotbed of abolitionists, freedmen and Quakers. Thanks to the constitutional compromise that considered each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of population counting, the South had a disproportionate say in where the capital would be located. Backdoor machinations by Treasury Secretary Hamilton and slaveholding Founding Father Madison over dinner with Jefferson resulted in a deal for a permanent national home on the banks of the Potomac. President Washington coordinated fundraising and construction (deadline 1800) and found in French-American engineer Peter Charles L’Enfant someone who shared his lofty vision of an imperial city. Bordewich skillfully depicts the personalities involved, including William Thornton, who designed the Capitol, and surveyor Andrew Ellicott’s African-American assistant Benjamin Banneker. The author’s considerable knowledge of America’s racial history helps him paint a comprehensive portrait of the momentous task achieved by black laborers, who could not share in the glory of the city they were building.

A work of admirable, if digressive, breadth, examining the endurance of the nation’s dream, even after the British pillaged Washington in 1814.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-084238-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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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 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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