Overlooked Gilded Age crooked financier Jim Fisk receives a compelling historical exhumation.

Intending to highlight “forgotten chapters of American history,” the inaugural volume in the American Portraits Series reanimates the heady histrionics of eccentric stock broker and corporate executive Jim Fisk during his zenith in the mid 19th century. The narrative begins with Fisk’s funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, lined with mourners both personal and professional. As his girlfriend many years prior, buxom showgirl Josie Mansfield grew weary of the “spectacle” and business cunning that garnered Fisk many lucrative associations, including partnering in 1868 with slick entrepreneur Dan Drew and tycoon Jay Gould, who, altogether, managed to seize control of the Erie Railroad from formidable Wall Street kingpin Cornelius Vanderbilt. Together with duplicitous politician William Tweed, Fisk was already embroiled in lawsuits and Mansfield had fallen for handsome associate Edward Stokes. Wanting his money but not him, she and Stokes attempted blackmail with personal letters incriminating him in illegal mischief. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, 2010, etc.) takes particular joy in unfolding the high-profile courtroom melodrama in the second half of the book with seemingly verbatim exchange of emotional testimony cresting with the imbroglio of Fisk’s violent murder at Stokes’ hand. The author makes liberal use of photographs, journalistic accounts, summaries of court proceedings and trial transcripts, all offering “blow-by-blow and word-for-word coverage” of the key players. With swift prose and exacting detail, Brands transports readers back in time to an ostentatious era rooted in swift industrialization, avarice and corruption, in which men like Fisk thrived—and ultimately perished. A wonderfully creative beginning to what promises to be a revitalizing history series.


Pub Date: May 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-74325-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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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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