Another attempt by journalist-historian Wills (Under God, 1990, etc.) to peel away layers of myth to extract the original context and continued relevance of an American institution—as he did in his trilogy about the Enlightenment influence on early America: Cincinnatus (1984), Explaining America (1981), and Inventing America (1978). Memories of the grisly Battle of Gettysburg were hardly faded when, nearly five months later, a cemetery was erected on the site. At that time, against all odds, Lincoln not only brought dignity to this hellish battleground, but ensured forever that Americans would interpret the Constitution and the Civil War fought to preserve it through the egalitarian prism of the Declaration of Independence. He ``revolutionized the Revolution, giving people a new past to live with that would change their future indefinitely.'' Here, as in nearly all his other work, Wills recalls the historical setting to argue in a contrarian mode, taking issue with those who exalt Lincoln at the expense of the day's principal speaker, Edward Everett (Lincoln's secretaries Nicolay and Hay devoted more attention to Everett's two-hour address in their biography of Lincoln than to their boss's three-minute remarks, he reminds us). Uncharacteristically, with appendices and notes totaling about a third of the book, this work feels more padded than Wills's other studies, and he cannot resist his occasional Jesuitical argumentation and intellectual ostentation (a chapter on the oratory of the Greek Revival is particularly egregious). Yet he is brilliant, and he proves it with insights into how Lincoln's speech reflected the Unionist rhetoric of Daniel Webster, transcendentalism, and the imagery of the rural cemetery movement- -and, in an especially stunning section, how Lincoln set a new standard for American prose style with 272 economically chosen words. Though Wills continues to wear his erudition on his sleeve, he is also, as ever, provocative—and, here, eloquent and moving too. (B&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: June 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-76956-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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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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