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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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