A history of New York City as varied as the metropolis itself, focusing on the immigrants who throughout the centuries have harkened to America's call and remade New York in their own image. Historians Binder (College of Staten Island, CUNY; The Age of the Common School, 1974) and Reimer (New York Univ.; Still the Golden Door, 1985, etc.) trace New York from its earliest beginnings as a Dutch colony in the 1600s, when it was America's major port, to its present-day status as cultural mecca of the world. Nowhere has the vast diversity of the American populace been more in evidence than in New York City, assert the authors: The first and often final stop of Irish, German, and Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe's poverty and wars, this ragged little island off the Atlantic coast has served as a veritable birth canal for the nation's development. According to Binder and Reimer, New York showed signs of its multiethnic character from the very beginning under the Dutch, who were ``tolerant of religious refugees, ethnic and linguistic minorities, or political exiles.'' Tolerance didn't mean acceptance, but the benign force of early market capitalism, which valued profit above prejudice, insured that religious minorities like Jews and Catholics would be allowed an increasingly larger role in the American franchise. That dynamic, though not always benign, has survived to this day, reemerging during the recent waves of Asian and Caribbean immigration. The authors deftly juxtapose the experiences of various immigrant groups, explaining how a particular culture's mores and idioms aided or hindered its assimilation into American society. What they do not do is bring these powerful cultural, economic, and social forces to life in the everyday experience of individuals, focusing instead on the larger interplay of communities, cultures, and groups. Informative, but a little more human interest would have given color to all those historical and social generalizations.

Pub Date: July 6, 1995

ISBN: 0-231-07878-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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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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