An important addition to the literature of slavery and African-American history, complementing the now-standard work of...

SAVING SAVANNAH

THE CITY AND THE CIVIL WAR

Sturdy history of the Southern port city and its relationship to the “curious institution” of slavery.

As Bancroft Prize–winning historian Jones (American History/Brandeis Univ.; Creek Walking: Growing Up in Delaware in the 1950s, 2001, etc.) notes, Savannah, like most ports, was cosmopolitan compared to the interior. Its white inhabitants included Protestants, Jews and Catholics from many European nations, most recently arrived from the Old World, and almost all members of a vigorous Democratic Party, which served as “testament to the mutual if wildly unequal dependence of the planter-merchant-lawyer elite and large numbers of teamsters, dockworkers, and sawmill hands.” No matter how different, though, white Savannah was insistent in its defense of slavery. Jones opens with an account of a slave, Thomas Simms, who escaped via the port and traveled north to Boston, where his pursuers discovered him and forced his extradition, despite the protestations of abolitionist Northerners. Upon returning to Savannah, Simms received the maximum punishment allowed by law, 39 strokes with the lash, which, Simms later said, would have been more “but for the sympathy manifested for him in the North.” Drawing on a trove of documents and firsthand accounts, Jones depicts the ordinary life of both whites and blacks. When the Civil War arrived, Savannah’s secessionist fervor gave way to pragmatism, and, like those of Natchez and other Southern cities, its leaders surrendered quickly rather than let their city be attacked. The arriving Federals, Jones observes, were none too evolved in their view of the African-American populace (one colonel called them “perfectly childlike…no more responsible for their actions than so many puppies”), and Reconstruction was no more generous to most of them, replacing slavery with other forms of indenture.

An important addition to the literature of slavery and African-American history, complementing the now-standard work of Eugene Genovese, Kenneth Stampp and other chroniclers.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4293-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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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 moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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