A generally genial portrait of a rugged man shaped and shoved by geography, weather, economics and race.




One year with an independent Mississippi cotton farmer reveals the harshness and fragility of life in the Delta.

Helferich (Humboldt’s Cosmos, 2004) has a busy agenda. He competently chronicles 12 months of sun and storm, good and ill fortune. He pauses regularly to broaden and contextualize. He reflects on issues of race and class. He sketches the personal life of farmer Zack Killebrew. Not everything goes well. Zack’s crop suffers nasty visits from the residue of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (the latter actually does more harm). His 30-year marriage to the author’s first cousin fractures, introducing an awkwardness that Helferich never sufficiently addresses. Most of the digressions are instructive and necessary. They teach us about the geology of the Delta, its natural history, the chemistry of cotton, the evolution and workings of the cotton gin, the creation of genetically engineered seeds, battles with pests, crop-dusting, irrigation, the history and functions of relevant farm equipment, the political issue of farm subsidies, the techniques of making denim. The author returns continually to Holmes County’s internecine racial conflicts, reviewing the history of slavery, the uses of slaves in cotton farming, the ongoing economic hardships many black families in the region endure. (He devotes perhaps too many pages to a rehearsal of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.) A number of Zack’s employees were black, and Helferich carefully observed them, recording their sometimes unpleasant interactions with their boss and other whites. The author explores, as well, the hunting-and-fishing culture of Zack and his comrades; Helferich himself amusingly failed at both.

A generally genial portrait of a rugged man shaped and shoved by geography, weather, economics and race.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-58243-353-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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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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