Many books discuss Lincoln and abolition, but this is among the best.



A superb analysis of how the Constitution influenced the battle over slavery.

Although the Constitution is widely considered a sacred document, legal scholars disagree on what the various clauses mean, and activists denounce it as flawed by shameful racist compromises. Oakes agrees that the Founding Fathers did indeed compromise. However, he demonstrates that the end result was so sloppy that, before the Civil War, slavery supporters could claim that it protected their institution, and abolitionists had no doubt that it didn’t. For example, the Fifth Amendment states that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. The Constitution refers to slaves as “persons,” but only abolitionists believed it. “Nowhere,” writes the author, “does the Constitution state that Congress cannot ‘interfere’ with slavery or abolition in a state, yet it was widely agreed that it could not.” The Constitution never mentions a right of “property in man” despite the assertion by Chief Justice Robert Taney in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that it does. Thus, the heated debate over slavery referred to principles absent from the text. Depending on one’s view, there existed a pro-slavery Constitution and an anti-slavery Constitution. Despite a lifelong dislike of slavery, Lincoln gets low marks from activists for his statements on racial equality, but he was a practical politician who needed to appeal to a Republican Party that contained members who were “thoroughgoing racial egalitarians.” “Others were unabashed racists in a way that Lincoln never was,” writes Oakes, who parses a complex topic with an impressive combination of deep insight and concision. Pressured during the famous 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, who claimed that Lincoln was “an advocate for racial ‘amalgamation,’ ” he backpedaled. Other scholars fault him for keeping abolitionists at arm’s length and look down their noses at the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed few slaves. However, Oakes persuasively shows how, from the moment Lincoln assumed office, he made it clear by both rhetoric and action that slavery was doomed.

Many books discuss Lincoln and abolition, but this is among the best.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00585-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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