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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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 concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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