For a sapient citizenry and a new administration, a graduate-level seminar on a civic philosophy that reminds us, “Freedom...




Young public intellectual considers anew some main currents in American thought.

The Founders’ call to the spirit of liberty, puzzling to Edmund Burke and derided by Samuel Johnson, was patently hypocritical in light of the institution of slavery, writes Purdy (Law/Duke Univ.; Being America, 2003, etc.). The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both central to our canon of liberty, were thus flawed, but nevertheless achievements and prototypes that made freedom an imperative. Purdy’s short primer traces the evolution of constructive anarchy—our national tradition—through the special contributions of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. He parses the language of Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts and both Bushes as well the preaching of ecclesiastics from the Puritans and Deists to the purpose-driven Rick Warren. He touches on the dignity of free labor and utopian common sense. American political discourse, founded on the assumption that people are capable of self-government, includes notions of responsibility, service and character, writes the author. When George W. Bush asserted that the Iraq invasion would succeed because “God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom,” it was “a humane and hopeful idea,” but it was also “dangerously close to willful naïveté.” It’s too bad that Purdy’s detailed take on economics doesn’t reckon with the present unhappy situation. Readers will surely regret not having his thoughts on the effects of Ayn Rand–like libertarianism, evident in the ideas of Alan Greenspan, and its role in the dismantling of government regulation of the financial markets.

For a sapient citizenry and a new administration, a graduate-level seminar on a civic philosophy that reminds us, “Freedom is not just where you end up but also how you get there.”

Pub Date: March 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4447-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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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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