A valuable contribution to the history of the Chinese in North America, allowing the formerly nameless to emerge “as real...




A well-researched history of the “Railroad Chinese,” those who traveled to the United States to build the transcontinental railway system but were thereafter mostly forgotten.

As Chang (History/Stanford Univ.; Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China, 2015) notes, the lives and fates of the Chinese railroad workers who labored to build steel lines across mountains and deserts are not well-documented; much is an argument from silence, barring the discovery of “that elusive prize, the diary of a Railroad Chinese.” What is certain is that many thousands arrived, traveling freelance or having been recruited from villages and cities in China. Drawing on family memories, government records, archaeological reports, and other materials, Chang reconstructs their difficult work and the social organization that underlay it, with young workers led by somewhat older foremen and labor brokers. Some arrived during the various gold rushes of 19th-century California, where they “frequently worked in teams on claims abandoned by white miners” and learned skills that would prove essential in later railroad work. Praised as “very good working hands,” they were also subject to racism at every level of American society and were often the victims of violence—e.g., the case of “a Chinaman,” as the court record calls a man named Ling Sing, who was repeatedly shot by a white man who escaped punishment thanks to laws that forbade nonwhites from testifying against whites. “Where Ling Sing is buried is not known," writes the author. The identities and pasts of so many others who died in construction accidents are similarly unknown, and although Railroad Chinese participated in strikes and asserted their rights, most disappeared after the lines were built, some to return to China, others to find work as farmers and laborers in places like New Orleans and California’s Central Valley.

A valuable contribution to the history of the Chinese in North America, allowing the formerly nameless to emerge “as real historical actors.”

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-61857-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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...


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?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet