For students of marriage and family law, an historic panorama, most revealing of the connections in the evolution of...

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MAN AND WIFE IN AMERICA

A HISTORY

An illuminating look at how law and custom shaped marriage in the 19th century and how those practices echo into the 21st.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, marriage in the 1800s was neither as stable nor as imprisoning as some of those sepia-toned family portraits would have us believe. While divorce was nearly impossible for most, separation was acceptable. Princeton historian Hartog (History of American Law and Liberty, not reviewed) delves into the subtleties of separation as an option to marital conflict via case histories, court documents, and legal commentaries from the early 1800s to the late 1900s. In the earliest years of our nation, marriage was for life. Married women had no public (and not much private) identity by virtue of the doctrine of coverture, which held them subject to their husbands. In return for that wifely loyalty, husbands were responsible for the support and protection of their spouses. If facing those long years of commitment suddenly looked too bleak, husbands and wives did have the option of living apart. Sometimes this was formalized in the court (in cases of abuse or abandonment); sometimes it was informal (as husbands moved west in search of opportunity, for example, and launched new families without severing the old ties). In fact, a simple move from one state to another would often thoroughly muddle marital status, and as a result (often unwittingly) bigamy flourished. Laws and the duties and responsibilities of husband and wife slowly evolved, although traces of coverture lingered as late as the 1970s. But by then questions of child custody had long since shifted away from the father’s absolute right to custody to a doctrine of the “best interests of the child,” which almost always favored the mother. No-fault divorce and gender politics have shattered the earlier legal and social constraints that kept couples together, but, notes Hartog wryly, marriage is still being practiced on a regular basis.

For students of marriage and family law, an historic panorama, most revealing of the connections in the evolution of marriage from an autocracy to a partnership.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-674-00262-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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