Engaging social history by a talented scholar with a distinct gift for narrative.




A narrative of financial chicanery and real-estate flimflam that foreshadows our own times.

Kamensky (History/Brandeis Univ.; Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England, 1997, etc.) returns to prominence the once-notorious speculator Andrew Dexter Jr. (1779–1837), a pioneer currency trader and prototypical hedge-fund operator. Always well-leveraged, Dexter laundered and watered money—at one point he issued $600,000 in notes that were backed by only $86 of actual specie. In a time when banks could independently emit currency, he established bogus depositories as distant as a thousand miles from his Boston base, the better to dispense worthless paper at home. A striver who had Gilbert Stuart paint a portrait he couldn’t pay for, reckless and feckless Dexter triggered the young country’s first banking collapse in 1809. He wasn’t entirely sinister, however; all he wanted was to build the biggest building on the continent, and he didn’t mind financing it with subprime mortgages. Often compared to the tower of Babel, the gigantic Exchange Coffee House, “a seven-story structure in a three-story town,” was designed to be a bourse, hotel, coffeehouse and office building. Containing more than 150 rooms, a vast trading floor and an atrium, capped by a tin dome, it rose to change Boston’s skyline. But just as it opened, Dexter’s financial pyramid collapsed, and he fled the country. His combustible skyscraper lasted only a decade, succumbing to a spectacular fire in 1818. (The hand-pumped water couldn’t reach the flames on the upper floors.) What happened to the builder and defaulter? Dexter returned to the United States to found Montgomery, Ala., then died bankrupt.

Engaging social history by a talented scholar with a distinct gift for narrative.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01841-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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