BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM

THE CIVIL WAR ERA (OXFORD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES)

With this major work, McPherson (History/Princeton; Ordeal by Fire) cements his reputation as one of the finest Civil War historians. The volume begins with a deft description of the ragged American army trudging into Mexico City in 1847. From there, the narrative speeds through 28 chapters that draw a precise and lively picture of what America and Americans were like in mid-19th century. McPherson delineates the issues that galvanized and divided the American public from the end of the Mexican War in 1848 to the opening of the Civil War in 1861, providing thorough explanations of the pre-war period's gravest crises—the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the prairie guerrilla war it started; the national clamor over the Dred Scott case; anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant violence and the brief life of the nativist Know-Nothing Party; and the panic over John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. And McPherson's coverage of the Civil War is just as strong and clear. The author also addresses arguments about the root origins or that war and pinpoints major causes: hatred of slavery and blind regional prejudice. What distinguishes McPherson's work is his fluid writing style and his able use of anecdote and human interest to flesh out his portrait of the times. Social history and verified gossip abound and are used to good effect: the 1851 racing victory of the US yacht America over 14 British vessels in the Royal Yacht Squadron became the talk of the sporting world and, also, heralded this nation's emergence as an industrial and technological force; talk of U.S. Grant's drinking problem and how he struggled to control it is shown to have shaped the general's personality in many positive ways; etc. McPherson also works in many bits of trivia that, while they may not be of historical import, make his treatment nearly effortless reading. This new volume in the Oxford History of the United States series should become a standard general history of the Civil War period—it's one that will stand up for years to come.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1988

ISBN: 019516895X

Page Count: 947

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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