These authoritative essays, most of which appeared previously in various formats, will appeal mainly to serious students and...



A pre-eminent historian reflects on the Civil War’s lasting impact on the nation.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln told Congress that the struggle to preserve the Union “is not altogether for today—it is for a vast future also.” In these essays from the past eight years, McPherson (Emeritus, History/Princeton Univ.; Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, 2014, etc.) notes the public’s continuing fascination with the Civil War, with its 750,000 soldiers dead, its “larger-than-life, near mythical” figures like Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, and its great “drama and romance and tragedy.” But at a deeper level, the conflict remains a lasting, seminal event in American history that transformed the average citizen’s relationship with government, sparked a historic shift in values toward positive liberty, and created the continuing “legacy of slavery in the form of racial discrimination and prejudice.” In many of the essays, McPherson reflects on the historiography of the war, including the ways in which academic historians’ enthusiasm for social as opposed to military history has affected scholarship on Lincoln. Several essays sharply criticize the work of specific historians, including Harry Stout for misrepresentations in Upon the Altar of the Nation (2006) and T. Harry Williams for his mistaken conclusion in Lincoln and His Generals (1952) that the president was a natural war strategist. Others explore topics from the expansion of slave states to wartime naval issues to the impact on American society of death and destruction on a massive scale. In a discussion of Lincoln and slavery, the author agrees with Eric Foner that the president was anti-slavery (deeming it a violation of natural rights) but not an abolitionist (he expected slavery would eventually die out).

These authoritative essays, most of which appeared previously in various formats, will appeal mainly to serious students and specialists.

Pub Date: March 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-937577-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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