ORDEAL BY FIRE

THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION

Princeton historian McPherson has produced what is unapologetically—in heft, in physical design, in the use of myriad headings and subheadings—a high-class undergraduate textbook. It does not so much supplant The Civil War and Reconstruction (Rev. 1969), by J. G. Randall and David Donald, as offer a worthy alternative—incorporating not only recent research findings but also far more detail on non-political matters and much quotation from contemporary and other sources. (McPherson's previous works—The Struggle for Equality and The Negro's Civil War—have made notable use of documentary material.) But, jam-packed with information, it is much more a book to learn from than a book to read. Most interesting in the larger scheme of things is the section on pre-Civil war currents—the modernizing, reformist Yankee Protestant ethos; the contrasting Southern socioeconomic order ("Herrenvolk democracy"); the anti-slavery movement ("the most modernized sector of the economy") and the proslavery counterattack (the "siege mentality," the wage-slave theme, the cavalier image). Moving into the war, McPherson pauses to explain "the process of raising a three-year regiment" and the specific advantages of the newly-perfected rifle; the outstanding feature of the material on the war itself—one not to be disparaged—is probably the maps. To that must be added—reflective of the whole—McPherson's attention to the role of blacks (the debate over their recruitment, the conditions under which they served). On Reconstruction—which he extends to 1890—McPherson is precise and pointed. Klansmen renegades? Not so: "Klansmen came from all social classes and their leaders were often prominent men or the sons of prominent men. . . . Their hit-and-run guerrilla tactics made them, in effect, a paramilitary arm of the Southern Democratic Party's effort to overthrow Republican rule in the South." Less than compulsive reading—but a valuable book to have around.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 1982

ISBN: 0072317361

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1982

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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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