THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY

If Vidal (The Smithsonian Institution, 1998, etc.) isn’t the last wild man remaining in the American literary left, then it’s hard to say who is. At any rate, this little volume will certainly add to the novelist’s reputation in that role. In fact, the book looks like something that Vidal dashed off on his coffee break. Consisting of the text of a three-part British TV series, with a brief afterword added, it’s an extremely condensed thumbnail history of the institution of the presidency, from its almost accidental beginnings in the aftermath of the Revolution to the office’s present-day decay into what Vidal gleefully dismisses as a glorified broadcasting job. “Currently, the American empire is governed not from the Oval Office, but from the White House TV studio,” he opines, a statement that recent events have done nothing to gainsay. Vidal regards the evolution of the presidency as a peculiar product of domestic paralysis—enforced by the powers of the rich and corporate—combined with a free hand in the realm of foreign affairs. As a result, activist presidents have tended to be those who concocted expansionist policies, usually to the sorrow of countries that were beneficiaries of a rather brutal form of American largesse. Scattered throughout here are small surprises, such as Vidal’s sympathy for Lyndon Johnson as a president genuinely concerned with a progressive domestic agenda, and his almost throwaway characterization of Polk as “intelligent, low-key.” Most of the time, though, the author giddily, flippantly slags off every occupant of the White House, from Washington to Bush—although he seems to maintain a certain odd affection for Clinton—in terms that run from the genuinely witty to the outright sophomoric. As a satirical novelist, Vidal is the nearest thing to Mark Twain. But as an essayist, he often leaves a lot to be desired. This is one of those times.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-878825-15-1

Page Count: 96

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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