Impressive research underlies a well-told story that’s simultaneously depressing (what a nasty species we are) and inspiring...

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FREEDOM'S CAP

THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL AND THE COMING OF THE CIVIL WAR

Partisan bickering, back-stabbing rivalries, xenophobia, character assassination, political moves that would make Machiavelli blush—no, not Washington circa 2011, but the Washington Capitol in the 1850s.

Former Washington Post congressional correspondent Gugliotta (co-author: Kings of Cocaine, 1989) returns with a prodigiously researched, generously illustrated account of the transformation of the U. S. Capitol from a cramped, cold, noisy, inadequate and ugly structure into today’s massive marble symbol of democracy. For those knowing little about the building, there are surprises on virtually every page. As the nation careened toward the Civil War, it was Jefferson Davis who championed the Capitol’s cause, fighting for the funds that the enormous project required. The author begins in the mid-1850s with the issue of Thomas Crawford’s statue, Freedom, now perched atop the Capitol dome. The original design featured a figure wearing a freedom cap, symbol of a liberated slave. Davis had a problem with that (the cap doesn’t appear on the final figure), but the great contest that Gugliotta outlines was between Army engineer Montgomery C. Meigs and architect Thomas Ustick Walter, both of whom would, at times, have control of the project. Both had ferocious work ethics, as well as enormous egos; their struggle raged for years as they contended for credit for the work. Gugliotta pauses occasionally to provide necessary historical and architectural context—including stories about marble quarries and ironworks; John Brown (whom he labels a terrorist); Presidents Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Lincoln; and the many artisans and artists, principally Constantino Brumidi, whose massive work still astonishes visitors who look upward in the rotunda.

Impressive research underlies a well-told story that’s simultaneously depressing (what a nasty species we are) and inspiring (what a wonderful species we are).

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8090-4681-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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