The grand sweep of American history is writ small in this family history/memoir by humorist Frazier (Great Plains, 1989, etc.). Frazier undertook this effort after his parents died in the late 1980s, to ``find a meaning that would defeat death.'' But his project seems more complicated and self-conscious, if not pretentious: an attempt to somehow reclaim American history for himself, a white Protestant. His preoccupation with his own religious doubt, contrasted with the firm faith of his ancestors- -whether German Reformed, Old School Presbyterian, or, like his great-great-grandfather Simeon Frazier, a member of the antiauthoritarian Disciples of Christ—culminates in a strange, reductionist review of American history as an expression of the decline of Protestant faith. More broadly, Frazier shares indiscriminately with us every detail he has been able to root out: from the momentous (the arrival of Thomas Benedict on these shores in 1638 and his descendant Platt Benedict's founding of Norwalk, Ohio) to the trivial (his great-great-uncle Charles's first attempt at fly-fishing and his grandmother's showing family pictures to Tennessee Williams in Key West). The quantity of information that could have rendered full-blooded portraits of long-ago generations is lacking; the lengthy catalogs often offered (trite entries from a great-grandfather's school diary, quotations from his parents' rather ordinary love letters) seem like fillers. The histories of the Fraziers, Wickhams, Benedicts, and Hurshes do follow the outlines of American history: the push west (all his relatives ended up in Ohio); the Civil War (Norwalk was a stop on the underground railroad); industrialization (his father became a chemist for Sohio). But Frazier's prose is flat as a prairie and his humor dry as stone. Only at the end, in interviews with two colorful relatives, and with the description of the deaths of his teenage brother Fritz from leukemia and of his parents, does the tale reach emotional heights. An object lesson in the pitfalls of writing a family history for anyone other than your family. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15319-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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