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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner



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

Did you like this book?