A sturdy but narrowly focused tale of American history.



A family’s history reveals the roots of America’s “capitalist ethos.”

Drawing on abundant archival sources, Stout (American Religious History/Yale Univ.; Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, 2006, etc.) presents a detailed history of the fortunes and aspirations of a single American family, the Andersons of Kentucky, from 1750 to 1888, arguing that land ownership was central to their lives as participants in “the American experiment in republican capitalism.” The Andersons’ quest for land forms a recurring theme, as do the worry and stress that land ownership entails. “Land was the lifeblood of the young nation,” writes the author, “but land was jeopardized by the markets and was the source of unending anxiety.” The clan’s patriarch was Richard Clough Anderson Sr., who in 1783 was elected to the post of surveyor general, “literally measuring America inch by inch and rod by rod to impose order on the land and make possible prosperity for its ambitious citizens.” Those citizens were white males whose land lust entailed the removal of Native nations by force and whose prosperity depended on slaves. The Andersons were slave owners, and though Stout maintains that their “intimate association with land, property, and anxiety” was “not exceptional for their time,” they represent “a broad swath of movers and shakers” rather than ordinary citizens and therefore limit the reach of Stout’s generalizations. With little documentation for women’s lives, the narrative mainly chronicles the Anderson men’s political affiliations, familial squabbles, participation in the Civil War, and responses to a succession of financial panics. Clough’s namesake, Richard Jr., beset by money troubles, risked his family’s well-being to pay off debts and acquire land by taking a well-paid consulship in Colombia; his decision to move to a country with poor medical treatment led to his wife’s death and, eventually, his own. After Richard died, his brother, a Harvard-educated lawyer, became the new patriarch and a wealthy Ohio landowner.

A sturdy but narrowly focused tale of American history.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-09898-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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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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