A prodigiously researched, provocative critique.




From the Cold War to the War on Terror, a historian and foreign-policy analyst charts the rise of human rights and the U.S. government’s appropriation of the doctrine for its own ends.

In the immediate wake of World War II, when America busied itself reorganizing a good portion of the globe, human rights played little role in the nation’s foreign policy. Notwithstanding the noble words adorning the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, American policymakers rejected rhetoric deemed simultaneously too airily sanctimonious and too dangerous, given the nation’s own persistent civil-rights problems. Instead, the country flew the banner of anticommunism, emphasizing the virtues of freedom and modernization. By Jimmy Carter’s administration, after the disastrous Vietnam War, the government sought a new mantra and seized upon human rights, in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s phrase, as “a globally resonant message of a great power.” Relying on decades of documents from the CIA, NSA, the Defense Department, think tanks, government-development agencies and a variety of human-rights groups and NGOs, Peck (Washington’s China: The National Security World, the Cold War, and the Origins of Globalism, 2006) traces the growth and utility of the doctrine though five more administrations, as each has used human rights (and other idealistic rationales like “democratization” and “humanitarianism”) to justify American interventions. The author identifies two currents of the human-rights movement—one concerning itself with individual civil and political rights and another focused on cultural, educational and economic issues—and demonstrates how the United States, while conveniently ignoring embarrassing chunks of its own history, has nimbly highlighted the first at the expense of the second. This clever statecraft has placed the two currents at odds, hamstringing various human-rights organizations insistent upon their own objectivity or subtly manipulating them in service of Washington’s ideological purposes. Peck calls for a broader understanding of human rights, one that doesn’t inoculate leaders against charges of human-rights abuses simply because they head democracies, one that takes collective rights every bit as seriously as individual rights.

A prodigiously researched, provocative critique.

Pub Date: March 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8328-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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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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