Entertaining, affectionate—but not a hit.

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GANGSTERS AND GOLD DIGGERS

OLD NEW YORK, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE BIRTH OF BROADWAY

A skillful novelist fashions an ordinary paean to the Broadway That Was, followed by an unsurprising rebuke of what we’re left with.

New Yorker Charyn (Bronx Boy, 2002, etc.) declares that 9/11 occasioned this Gotham scrapbook. He wished, he says, to honor all of Manhattan by celebrating one particular place, a certain street, a certain time. The author begins with Damon Runyon (whose Broadway stories he greatly admires) and moves more or less chronologically by creating patchy portraits of those who form the popular pantheon of characters who once ruled the street or flashed across the horizon of celebrity or acted or sang or danced or joked in vaudeville. His sketches of Arnold Rothstein, Flo Ziegfeld, Al Jolson, Irving Berlin, Fanny Brice, Jack Johnson, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and George Gershwin will enlighten no one who reads widely or watches A&E’s Biography. Okay, readers may not know that “rosebud,” the last word to escape the lips of Charles Foster Kane, was the private name that William Randolph Hearst gave to the private parts of Marion Davies. Similar shocked delight may accompany the discovery that Jolson called exceptionally sexually adept women “chandeliers” (because they would do it even while hanging from a chandelier). Charyn does give overdue credit to the black performers of the era (e.g., Bert Williams, Florence Mills), all of whom endured crushing indignities, not the least of which was watching lesser (white) talents apply blackface and win popular acclaim. And he retains, even in the most unremarkable passages, the ability to craft a remarkable line (Broadway was “that nighttime capital of chaos”), although he is also quite capable of writing a sentence so ordinary that it seems to have come from the pen of an evil twin (“Both Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were the center of everything, with an aura all their own”). There simply aren’t enough new insights or revelations to justify this parade of well-known stories and personalities.

Entertaining, affectionate—but not a hit.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56858-278-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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...

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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