A comprehensive, readable history of this distinctive prairie state before the Civil War. Davis (History/Illinois Coll.; Frontier America, 1800—1840, not reviewed) takes us from the time when what is now the state of Illinois was nothing but uninhabited land to the year in which its previously defeated senatorial candidate, Abraham Lincoln, became president of the US. In between, Illinois passed from native through French and briefly British, finally to American hands and went from a frontier wilderness to a prosperous urban society. Davis analyzes this complex transformation in consistently lively prose, scanting neither the main characters nor the more impersonal forces that brought this change about. Native Americans are front and center through much of the story. So, too, are the diverse populations of European settlers—French and post-Revolution Americans uppermost—and African-Americans, both slave and free. What helped make this most south-reaching midwestern state distinctive was its dual in-migration of southerners moving north, often with their slaves, and easterners moving west with their free-soil culture. Out of the original territories of the Old Northwest, established by the great Ordinance of 1787, Illinois became a state in 1818, after political shenanigans that won it statehood without the minimum number of inhabitants required by law and with the questionable addition, from the Wisconsin Territory, of thousands of square miles that included the land on which Chicago, the Midwest’s greatest city, rose. Throughout all of these developments, and especially the gradual erosion of slavery, this “far distant country” remained comparatively free of violence and attached to communal norms. Davis ends his tale when Illinois, no longer a frontier land, had become the most highly urbanized of any state west of the Appalachians on the eve of the Civil War. This deft synthesis of existing knowledge is likely to become the standard modern history of Illinois. (13 b&w photos, 5 maps, not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-253-33423-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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

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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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