A fine introduction to what promises in 2013 to become a nationwide discussion.



As we near its sesquicentennial, a distinguished Lincoln scholar examines the problematic history of the Emancipation Proclamation.

On New Year’s Day 1863, Lincoln steadied himself before signing the document whose culture-changing significance he well understood: “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” Today Lincoln’s image as “the Great Emancipator” has eroded—too politically incorrect—replaced by Lincoln the unifier, Lincoln the wise. After his death the Proclamation “soon achieved the status of holy writ.” Today it’s often dismissed as the delayed, insufficient and half-hearted act of a desperate president fearful of losing his office and the war. Holzer’s (Lincoln President-Elect, 2009, etc.) tripartite narrative deals first with the historical context of the Proclamation, laying out Lincoln’s exquisitely difficult political, legal, moral and martial calculations as he gradually widened his circle of confidants, labored to manipulate public opinion and slyly prepared the nation for his momentous decision. He spent months refining the announcement released after Antietam and steadfastly signed the promised executive order. The author then moves to a discussion of the Proclamation’s rhetorical deficiencies (Richard Hofstadter said it contained “all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading”), explains why our most eloquent president wrote so uncharacteristically and points us to contemporaneous speeches and letters for the “poetic accompaniment” to what was, after all, preeminently a legal document. Finally, Holzer turns to the iconography surrounding Lincoln and emancipation, tracing images from the early kneeling-slave, peculiarly disconcerting to modern audiences, on through to treatments by contemporary artists such as Rauschenberg, Basquiat and Kara Walker. This visual evidence effectively underscores his larger point about our troublesome, still evolving understanding of the Proclamation’s place in our history.

A fine introduction to what promises in 2013 to become a nationwide discussion.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-674-06440-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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