Large-scale history with an intimate touch.



A cultural historian looks at America’s “age of regeneration” between the end of the Civil War and World War I.

The end of Reconstruction in 1877 also marked the beginning of decades of social and economic upheaval that transformed the nation from a sleepy republic to a world power. From the Civil War’s widespread destruction emerged an intense longing for rebirth. Lears (History/Rutgers Univ.; Something for Nothing: Luck in America, 2003, etc.) presents this struggle between farmers and bankers, workers and industrialists, pacifists and militarists, immigrants and nativists, as a battle for the nation’s soul. During this contentious period the noble Republican Party of Lincoln become the captive of big business, while the old bugaboo of race kept Northern and Southern Democrats from mobilizing an effective opposition. In richly allusive and lively prose, Lears explains how the desire for reconciliation among whites was achieved at the price of equal rights for blacks and a reign of racial terror. He examines how the populist dream of a cooperative commonwealth ultimately yielded to the elite cult of manliness and militarism, the pervasive power of capital and a managerial and political class convinced that the nation’s road to renewal ran through empire. The author’s cast of characters ranges from the unexpected—Harry Houdini, Buffalo Bill—to the predictable array of Gilded Age villains—mainly Morgan, Rockefeller and Carnegie. Lears clearly sympathizes with the idealists and dreamers determined to wrest meaning from the Civil War’s awful sacrifice. He cites the work and commentary of people like Jane Addams, Mark Twain, William James and Eugene Debs. For him, Teddy Roosevelt was a monster and Woodrow Wilson a tragic figure, overwhelmed by dark forces. Though the author’s take on the era is partisan, readers need not agree with his politics to appreciate the high style and obvious passion he brings to this difficult subject.

Large-scale history with an intimate touch.

Pub Date: June 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-074749-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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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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