Thrilling in scope and elegant in style and argument—a certain bet to win numerous awards.




Wide-angle presentation of the philosophical, political and martial storms buffeting the infant American republic at the close of the 18th century.

In the years following the Constitution’s adoption, the United States weathered three domestic rebellions, a quasi-war with France and continued humiliations at the hands of Britain. It withstood the unexpected emergence of political parties and the most contentious election in its history (sharply chronicled in Edward J. Larson’s A Magnificent Catastrophe, 2007). It managed an unprecedented, peaceful transfer of power between antagonists and witnessed the death of Washington, the figure most indispensable to the precarious American experiment. To explain fully the nature and extent of the young nation’s peril and the reasons for its birth and unlikely survival, Winik (History and Public Policy/Univ. of Maryland; April 1865: The Month That Saved America, 2001, etc.) examines the international zeitgeist, especially forces at work in France and Russia. He explains the era’s unusual fluidity, the surprising intertwining of people and events illustrated by spot-on portraits of the Enlightenment’s greatest men and women, especially those—e.g., Franklin, Jefferson, Talleyrand, Lafayette, Gouverneur Morris, John Paul Jones, Citizen Genet, Thaddeus Kosciuszko—who played important roles on more than one continent. His painterly prose catches Napoleon, Potemkin and Russian General Suvorov at war and the likes of Mirabeau, Hamilton and Adams thinking their way into the next century. Marvelously varied scenes in this sweeping narrative range from Catherine the Great’s tour of the Crimea to the backwoods Whiskey Rebellion, from the dinner table at Mt. Vernon to the Ottoman Sultan’s seraglio, from the glittering court of Louis XVI to Marat’s bathtub and Robespierre’s appointment with the guillotine. Winik effortlessly condenses impossibly large events—particularly the French Revolution, whose lofty ideology and bloody effusions shaped so much—all in service of his grand thesis: that this crucial decade of despotism, rebellion, war and democracy accounts for the nation—indeed, the world—we’ve inherited.

Thrilling in scope and elegant in style and argument—a certain bet to win numerous awards.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-008313-7

Page Count: 688

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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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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