A pertinent history lesson, especially in this election year.




Civil War historian Ecelbarger (Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester, 2008, etc.) looks at the remarkable campaign that propelled Honest Abe to the presidency.

Having been defeated twice in four years for his bid to the U.S. Senate—against Stephen A. Douglas—Illinois attorney Lincoln was in a low point of his career by late 1858. His improbable rise to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president by 1860—against the great favorite, New York Senator William Seward—makes a compelling story, which is skillfully delineated by Ecelbarger. The future president’s debates with Douglas, a proponent of the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, made Lincoln nationally famous, and proved to be the catalyst for his success. Committed friends like Jesse Fell and Judge David Davis kept his name on the back burner, concealing his true ambition, while in the name of party unity Lincoln modified his anti-slavery views, distancing himself from the abolitionists, whose stance he believed spelled political suicide. He also had to backpedal from his controversial “House Divided” speech of the previous year (“A house divided against itself cannot stand”), which seemed to presage civil war. The build-up to the nomination required Lincoln to travel outside the state of Illinois to court the press, as Ecelbarger amply demonstrates. The author creates a sympathetic, humane portrait of this ungainly character who did not like to discuss his humble upbringing and spoke instead about the demoralizing influence of slavery in clear, earnest terms. At the Republican convention in Chicago in May 1860, the committed but underfinanced Lincoln team confronted the Seward juggernaut and carried the day. Ecelbarger’s informed, readable account will appeal to both scholars and amateur historians.

A pertinent history lesson, especially in this election year.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-37413-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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...


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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