A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”



The nuances and complexities of silence.

Brox (Creative Writing/Lesley Univ.; Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, 2010, etc.) moves from the openness and space found in her earlier, well-received books on farms to places far more confining. This poignant and somber book is as much about solitude as it is silence. It’s also a social history of buildings and people who inhabit them, primarily prisons and monasteries, and the silence, whether imposed or invited, that inhabits those within. The author begins with the history of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in 1829, it was largely inspired by Founding Father Benjamin Rush’s belief in a “new kind of justice,” the “silent and separate incarceration of criminals.” The plan was to make prisons “as forbidding and repellent as possible.” Throughout, Brox intimately imagines its first prisoner, Charles Williams, an 18-year-old black farmer, personally experiencing the horrors and sufferings of prison life. The author then transitions to a historical examination of the monastery and the monks who chose a life of voluntary imprisonment as a means to achieve a more spiritual life. Silence, monastic chants, and prayers were an integral part of their daily lives, as was community, something Williams was forbidden. A large part of the book explores the austere life and writings of the famous Trappist pacifist monk Thomas Merton and his life at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemani. Brox touches on many diverse topics, including the lives of nuns in monasteries and the horrific World War II bombing of the Monte Cassino monastery, and invokes many voices, including Dickens, Thoreau, Eugenia Ginzburg, a prisoner of Stalin’s Great Purge, author Doris Grumbach, and Brox’s “own most profound encounter with silence.” She concludes that silence can be many things, from an unwelcome punishment or a “lifelong commitment” to a “deliberate inquiry” or a “last resort.”

A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-70248-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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?

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

Did you like this book?