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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 16

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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

Did you like this book?

more