Politics wonks will find much to chew on here, and sci-fi writers might find a few what-if moments to play with as well.

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THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED

STUNNING ALTERNATE HISTORIES OF AMERICAN POLITICS: JFK, RFK, CARTER, FORD, REAGAN

For want of iron will on the part of an assassin, John F. Kennedy lived a few years longer than he might have.

Such is the stuff of counterfactual history, which scholars are not supposed to engage in—but in which Greenfield (Oh, Waiter, One Order of Crow! Inside the Strangest Presidential Election Finish in American History, 2001, etc.), a longtime TV journalist, revels. But this is not the “what if Custer had a helicopter” flavor of counterfactuality. Instead, the author offers three extensive and conjoined thought experiments centered on three turning points. In 1960, a suicide bomber failed to detonate his charge at president-elect Kennedy’s front door, deterred by the sight of his wife, Jacqueline. But what if he had carried out his mission? Lyndon Johnson would have become president, and the tenor of modern history might have changed with that mere shift of chronology. And who might he have chosen for vice president? After surviving a constitutional crisis mounted by a young William F. Buckley, Johnson might have named Bobby Kennedy, of course—though he might also have reached across the aisle to draft Nelson Rockefeller, “like Johnson…a Cold War internationalist” who relished any opportunity to face down the Russians. And then what? The Cuban Missile Crisis would have developed into an actual shooting war, including, for the first time since World War II, “nuclear weapons…employed in a military conflict.” And what would that have done to LBJ’s chances of being reelected? Greenfield unfolds scenario after scenario to show that history can turn on the smallest of moments, and then he examines the real historical record to ponder some of the attendant ironies.

Politics wonks will find much to chew on here, and sci-fi writers might find a few what-if moments to play with as well.

Pub Date: March 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15706-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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