Every major city should have such a guide to its past.



A vivid evocation of the Big Easy, whose nickname sidesteps three centuries of uneasy history.

Writer and documentary film producer Berry (Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, 2012, etc.) opens with a juxtaposition of two important moments in the recent history of New Orleans: the 2015 funeral of musical legend Allen Toussaint, which “resembled an affair of state,” and the fiery debate over removing Confederate statues from the city’s public places. This “clash of icons” speaks to the significant question of what the city’s history really is: Is New Orleans a space where transformative works of art and music have been born or a place where some of the worst angels of our nature have been let loose? The answer, of course, is both. Borrowing the thought from novelist Walker Percy that the people of New Orleans are “happiest when making money, caring for the dead, or ‘putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are,’ " Berry explores key moments in the clash of cultures and powers. Carved out of the scrubby Mississippi River lowlands as an entrepôt and anchor for France’s inland empire, New Orleans was, by its 10th year, “a black majority town with slave labor.” Indians were enslaved, too, even as the French concluded treaties with faraway Indian nations. The city was affected by both the Reign of Terror in Paris and the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, both of which indirectly led to the acquisition of New Orleans as part of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase—said the seller, a cash-strapped Napoleon Bonaparte, “I renounce it with the greatest regret….I require money.” Confederate center, strategically important port, birthplace of jazz, setting of tragedy and disaster, and now a site of gentrification: Berry nimbly covers New Orleans in all its aspects over 300 years, “a map of the world in miniature, a blue city floating against the odds of sea rise and climate convulsions, blue forever in its long sweet song.”

Every major city should have such a guide to its past.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4696-4714-2

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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