A lively, well-written survey full of novel observations on a region shrouded in legend.




The prolific American historian turns his attention to the conquest of the West.

As Brands (Chair, History/Univ. of Texas; Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants, 2018, etc.) notes in opening, the American West was, in ancient times, the Asian East and the Beringian South. By the time Thomas Jefferson signed off on the Louisiana Purchase, it was definitively part of North America, contested by European powers but almost inevitably a part of the United States. The author identifies three commanding themes in Western history: the capacity of the region for “the evoking and shattering of dreams,” a pattern of constant violence, and unparalleled irony “in the form of paradox, contradiction and unintended consequence.” Emblematic of the first was Theodore Roosevelt’s dream of ranching in the Dakota Territory, a failed enterprise that nonetheless cast New York City native Roosevelt as “that damned cowboy,” as politician Mark Hanna called him. The second figures throughout the author’s lucid, fluent narrative at places like the Alamo and Wounded Knee. (One of the recurrent characters is the Sioux leader Black Elk, who lived a long life after many key battles.) Brands locates irony in the fact that the West gave us the iconic figures of the lone gunfighter and stalwart settler while the conquest of the region was emphatically an exercise in collective power on the part of the federal government. Another irony, especially given current events in the region, is the fact that “by scores, then by hundreds and thousands, illegal immigrants poured into Texas” in the 1820s—illegal immigrants from, that is, the U.S., creating the conditions that led to war with Mexico. The author turns up little-known historical facts: two subsequent invasions of Texas, after the collapse of Mexican rule under Santa Anna, by Mexican armies; the admission of California as a state in which slavery was illegal—but where blacks were almost forbidden to enter; and many more, lending depth to his narrative.

A lively, well-written survey full of novel observations on a region shrouded in legend.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7252-9

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 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...


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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