An intriguing history in need of further editing.



A history of two documents written in Arabic by enslaved Muslims that came to the attention of Thomas Jefferson in 1807.

Einboden, who has vast experience recovering and translating Arabic slave writings, sets the story of these brief missives against the intricate history of Muslim interactions with the nascent republic and, especially, Jefferson. The author begins with a brief vignette that receives great elaboration in later chapters: In 1807, two men who spoke no English were captured as suspected runaway slaves in rural Kentucky. They seemed unusual to their captors and were also literate, but only in Arabic, an all-but-unknown language in the early U.S. An eccentric traveler, convinced that these men needed to be freed, carried two pages of their Arabic writings to Washington, D.C., presenting them directly to Jefferson. Jefferson’s attempts to have the writings translated make for an interesting story, but the larger tale is that of America’s early interactions with the Muslim world. Beginning with the plight of an American captive in Africa while Jefferson was an envoy to Paris and moving on to the conflicts with Barbary pirates, Einboden shares this complex diplomatic history with an emphasis on the language barrier that further separated America from the Arabic-speaking world. The author highlights many scholars and leaders who were at the vanguard of breaking this language barrier, including Yale’s Ezra Stiles and the University of Pennsylvania’s Robert Patterson, who “was not only a professor of mathematics and inventor of ciphers, but also an anti-slavery activist.” Further, Einboden weaves in the political scandals of the day—e.g., Aaron Burr’s arrest for treason—and, finally, Jefferson’s progressive views on religious freedom. Worthwhile and even fascinating as a history, the book nevertheless suffers from a repetitive, awkward style, as the author consistently rehashes his points and repeats many ideas and even phrases throughout the book. Though he may be attempting to build suspense, it becomes tiresome by the end.

An intriguing history in need of further editing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-084447-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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