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. 19, 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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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

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