EMPIRE BY DEFAULT

THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR AND THE DAWN OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY

Historian Musicant (Divided Waters, 1995) offers a detailed examination of the American war that catapulted the nation to imperial status. Beginning with the political conflicts that brought William McKinley to the presidency, Musicant offers a portrait of a nation increasingly torn between the desire for isolation and the yearning for a place on the international stage. That conflict was at first fought out in the nation's newspapers, which, by focusing on Spanish atrocities against Cubans fighting for independence, managed to gradually sway public opinion toward involvements abroad. The sinking of the American warship Maine in the harbor of Havana (blamed, without much evidence, on a Spanish mine), pushed America over the edge, and a reluctant McKinley was compelled to declare war on Spain. The war itself lasted less than a year (from April 21, 1898, to March 19, 1899) and featured only a few large-scale battles, but Musicant is able to wring considerable drama from this thorough narrative of events. He draws heavily on primary American and Spanish sources, including the memoirs of Teddy Roosevelt, who led the famous charge up San Juan Hill. As Musicant points out, that charge was far bloodier than suspected; indeed, raw American troops often found themselves facing well-entrenched foes. At sea it was a different story: Admiral Dewey demolished an entire Spanish squadron at Manila Bay, securing the Philippines as American troops were seizing Cuba. While his narrative of the war is thorough, clear, and vivid, Musicant seems to scant the war's larger meanings, such as Roosevelt's 1900 election as vice president and a festering guerrilla war in the Philippines. The conclusion is only weak by comparison, however, as Musicant offers a meticulous yet exciting narrative of a small war that carried large implications for the nation's future. (8 pages b&w photos, 8 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-3500-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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