Narratively not always up to its best moments, but well researched and accessible; a persuasive reminder that we should look...




A historian peels the romantic veneer off the good old days of late-19th-century America.

Although Brands (Texas A&M Univ.; The Wages of Globalism, 1994, etc.) notes that issues and events of the 1890s have reverberated down through the 20th century, he is convinced—and convincing—that the story of that volatile decade is inherently interesting and its telling "requires no extrinsic justification.'' He charges into his first chapter, on Frederick Jackson Turner's theory on the closing of the frontier, via the gripping personal story of a man who was in the thick of the rush to grab "free'' Oklahoma land. Although he recaptures this immediacy with his discussion the bloody Homestead steelworkers' strike, Brands basically settles into a topic-by-topic exploration of major events in the political, legal, and economic history of great men and the great masses that they led (and coerced and exploited). Ruthlessness, efficiency, and available resources lead to the rise of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and John Pierpont Morgan, the last of whom was even able to personally rescue the country from possible financial default in the Panic of 1893 (for a fee, of course). Journalist Jacob Riis wrote about the misery of urban slum life, and Jane Addams, one of the book's few women, did something about it. Chicago's "boodlers'' and New York City's Tammany bosses made corruptibility a foundation of big city government. Agricultural depression and intense division over the gold standard aided the rise of Populism and William Jennnings Bryan's unsuccessful but dramatic bid for the presidency. With Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court helped erode black civil rights by accepting the separate-but-equal standard, and an increasingly imperialistic country found ample cause to meddle in Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines and Hawaii.

Narratively not always up to its best moments, but well researched and accessible; a persuasive reminder that we should look back over our shoulder at what has gone before.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-312-13594-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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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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