Still, an important, absorbing addition to the vast Lincoln library.



Meticulous reconstruction of the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave who became the First Lady’s personal dressmaker and confidante.

Fleischner (English/Adelphi Univ.; Mastering Slavery, not reviewed) brings to light a compelling story long obscured by events of greater consequence. She begins with a post-assassination meeting in New York City between Mary and Lizzy during which the emotionally damaged and deeply indebted widow revealed to her friend a plan to raise money by selling the scores of gowns she wore during her White House years. (The plan, we find out 300 pages later, failed miserably.) Then the author moves back to chronicle in alternating chapters the biographies of Mary Todd and Elizabeth Hobbs, the former born into a fairly prosperous slave-owning family in Lexington, Kentucky; the latter born into slavery in Virginia. It takes 200 pages for their lives to converge. By then Lizzy had married a man named Keckly (who soon vanished), become a talented and popular seamstress, purchased freedom for herself and her son at the enormous price of $1,200, and established herself in Washington, D.C., as the favored seamstress of such luminaries as Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Lizzy and Mary met on the eve of Lincoln’s first inauguration, when Mary ordered the first of what would be many dresses. The relationship, argues Fleischner, grew into a friendship as Lizzy helped Mary with everything from childcare to shopping to grieving. It fractured, however, when Lizzy, who had damaged her own business to attend to the First Widow, elected to publish a memoir. This was much too uppity for proud, frangible Mary Lincoln, and the two never met again. The author provides many fascinating details about fashion and mantua-making, although she could have omitted much material available elsewhere about the rise of Abraham Lincoln and horrors of the Civil War.

Still, an important, absorbing addition to the vast Lincoln library.

Pub Date: April 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0258-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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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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