History and biography lacking in intellectual curiosity or a coherent overarching concept.




Three mid-19th-century leaders shape their countries' destinies.

Prolific Canadian author Laxer (Political Science/York Univ.; Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812, 2012, etc.) contends that the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 launched three “nation state projects” in North America, attempts by a people who viewed themselves as cultural or ethnic nations to achieve formal statehood. He asserts that the United States then constituted two such nations, and the Civil War was an attempt by the Southern nation to gain statehood by splitting off from the federal Union, while the Northern nation ultimately aimed to reconstitute the Union as a single nation-state purged of slavery. At the same time, several of Britain's North American provinces were inspired to unite into the self-governing Dominion of Canada under the protective aegis of the British Empire. Most of the book is taken up with lightweight histories of Canada and the United States in the middle of the 19th century, narratives that draw heavily and uncritically on a handful of secondary sources. The chapters on Canadian confederation and the Red River Rebellion may prove interesting to American readers unfamiliar with the story, and Canadian readers may learn more about the run-up to the American Civil War, but the purpose of the book remains elusive. The concept that the antebellum Southern states constituted a cultural nation within a nation is hardly new, and the puzzle of what binds Canadians together as a nation is with us still. Attempting to unite his stories, Laxer contends that Canadian confederation was driven by a need for unified resistance to American domination or conquest, but he fails to marshal convincing evidence in support; it appears more likely to have been motivated by economic considerations, railroad interests, and dysfunctional government in the Province of Canada.

History and biography lacking in intellectual curiosity or a coherent overarching concept.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77089-430-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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