A useful survey of American activism and its lasting repercussions.

AMERICAN RADICALS

HOW NINETEENTH-CENTURY PROTEST SHAPED THE NATION

Sturdy historical account of the contributions of 19th-century radical thinkers to the present.

That most Americans, at least on paper, work an eight-hour day is a product of American labor activists who took on the cause as an extension of abolitionism. That women have the right to vote was an outgrowth of the feminism that similarly grew from abolitionism, while it was largely the labors of the son of socialist reformer Robert Owen “that made no-fault divorce accessible nationwide.” So writes Jackson (History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; American Blood: The Ends of the Family in American Literature, 1850-1900, 2013) in this overview of labor, political, and social activism throughout the 19th century. At the center of her story is Owen Sr., a wealthy British industrialist who saw in early America and its people “free and easy manners, the ‘extreme equality’ across classes, and their universal, near-fanatical engagement in politics as a form of social engineering.” The author writes that the figures who populate her narrative, among them William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony, “worked across three entwined fields: slavery and race; sex and gender; property and labor.” Some of them would have been easily confused with the hippies of the 1960s while others were straitlaced in affect but fiery in effect. The great firebrand John Brown was neither, and while his raid at Harpers Ferry failed to incite a Nat Turner–like slave rebellion across the South—on that note, writes Jackson, Turner was the subject of gruesome remembrance, his “severed head…passed around for decades”—it did result in a hastening of Southern secession and with it the Union victory that led to abolition. The author’s account moves swiftly and interestingly, though the argument is not entirely novel; Manisha Sinha gets at many of the same points in The Slave’s Cause (2016). Still, Jackson’s book merits attention as a study in what she calls “slow-release radicalism,” with seeming failures that eventually turned into successes.

A useful survey of American activism and its lasting repercussions.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57309-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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