A useful contribution to the literature about slavery and the Civil War.

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FREEDOM NATIONAL

THE DESTRUCTION OF SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES, 1861-1865

A finely argued book about how the destruction of slavery involved much more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Oakes (History/CUNY Graduate Center; The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, 2007, etc.) returns to the notion that slavery, rather than states’ rights or “an outbreak of hysteria, irrationality and paranoia,” was truly the origin of the Civil War. In order to challenge the Constitutional consensus on slavery, the anti-slavery activists had to appeal to the broad principles of “natural law,” to which the Framers had implicitly referred. Also, opponents of slavery had to make the convincing argument that slaves were in fact not property, using the Somersett case in England as a legal benchmark. In addition to the Emancipation Proclamation, Oakes reveals the many smaller but significant victories for the opponents of slavery—e.g., New York’s 1799 emancipation law and John Quincy Adams’ eloquent defense of the slave ship Amistad’s rebels before the Supreme Court. Proponents of the Liberty Party asserted that slavery was not a national institution, but peculiar to certain states and suitable to be “cordoned off,” thus underscoring the importance of the border states during the Civil War as “containment” of the slave contagion; on the other hand, freedom, they believed, was national and not able to be restricted locally. Oakes wades through extremely nuanced arguments that evolved over time in the North and South, in Congress, in the military and in the mind of Lincoln. However, only 13 percent of the 4 million slaves living in the South were freed by the end of the war, prompting the necessity for a 13th Amendment to ensure Southern tractability.

A useful contribution to the literature about slavery and the Civil War.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-06531-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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