A fascinating slice of America’s past, wonderfully told. It might even inspire sports fans to get the words right.

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THE FLAG, THE POET AND THE SONG

THE STORY OF THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER

A diverting history of the national anthem—ironic, anecdotal, and blessed with a dry humor—from New York Times reporter Molotsky.

Bellicose and bumptious, that martial tune “The Star-Spangled Banner” is inescapable: sporting events, civic ceremonies, holidays, whatever—the anthem gets trotted out and the words butchered by an enthusiastic vox populi (not to mention by Robert Goulet and José Feliciano during prime-time television). But as a national anthem it’s only 70 years old. And its history? Wasn’t the flag sewn by Betsy Ross and the song written by Francis Scott Key after a successful Revolutionary War battle? No—and Molotsky entertainingly sets readers straight. Mary Pickersgill sewed the flag (Betsy Ross may well be a national figment) that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, in a battle the successfully defended Baltimore. Baltimore? Yes, a far more important burg 200 years ago than provincial Washington (which had already been torched by British troops anyway). The author draws a terrific thumbnail sketch of the War of 1812—a much-misunderstood event, particularly in American history textbooks (which often conveniently forget the US invasion of Canada). He also introduces the major characters involved in the battles, the flag-making, and the songs, with lots of caustic asides (Key, for example, was a slave owner who felt perfectly comfortable rhapsodizing on “the land of the free”). He even dissects the words of the anthem for us, so that readers will know what “the rockets’ red glare” refers to. There is a rather long section on flag-burning and the First Amendment, but Molotsky keeps things lively by skewering any pompous windbaggery (such as that displayed by Senator Orrin Hatch and his self-serving, patriotic grandstanding) on the issue.

A fascinating slice of America’s past, wonderfully told. It might even inspire sports fans to get the words right.

Pub Date: June 4, 2001

ISBN: 0-525-94600-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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