A worthy, capably told look at a small canon of works demonstrating how to do well by doing good.

AMERICANON

AN UNEXPECTED U.S. HISTORY IN THIRTEEN BESTSELLING BOOKS

Exploring the American “bibles”—dictionaries, almanacs, cookbooks, and the like—that have helped shape the nation’s sense of self.

Journalist McHugh examines a long bookshelf of didactic books by which Americans have self-educated. We pride ourselves, she contends, as people who have made themselves out of the common clay, and thus “asking for help becomes at least a little shameful.” Thus, such readily available books help us avoid owning up to our ignorance by asking someone who knows how to bake a cake or spell a word. One key example is Noah Webster’s dictionary of the English language, which helped stabilize wobbly spellings and provided the wherewithal for a national tongue. The McGuffey Readers were an extension of this, premised not just on a national educational system, but also on the conviction that the Christian Bible was “a national text, tying patriotism and a certain kind of Christianity ever closer together.” Less nationalistic in nature, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, which has sold 75 million copies, instructed its readers in the fine art of becoming a “successful American housewife,” and Emily Post’s book of etiquette became an essential guide for social climbers who wished to shed their rough roots for urbane polish. McHugh closes with a look at the self-help books of the 1980s, when the anti-capitalist mores of the 1960s gave way to full-on consumerism and became “a multimillion-dollar industry.” Clearly enthusiastic about her subject, the author sometimes finds herself in the tall weeds; her account of the making of the Old Farmer’s Almanac is everything you ever wanted to know, and then much more besides. Early on, McHugh points out that her field contains “a striking absence of nonwhite authors and LGBTQ authors,” for the simple reason that dispensers of advice have usually been White men, and often of a conservative religious bent.

A worthy, capably told look at a small canon of works demonstrating how to do well by doing good.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4663-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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...

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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