Freeman leans heavily on journalists and diarists to deliver a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional government that—minus the...




A hair-raising history of “extreme congressional discord and national divisiveness.” No, not today, but rather before and during the Civil War, when violence among members of Congress was not uncommon.

According to Freeman (History and American Studies/Yale Univ.; Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, 2001, etc.), between the Jackson and Lincoln administrations, congressional sessions regularly featured “canings, duel negotiations and duels; shoving and fistfights; brandished pistols and bowie knives; wild melees in the House; and street fights with fists and the occasional brick. Not included in that number is bullying that never went beyond words.” History buffs will recall the brutal 1856 caning of Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner by South Carolina’s Preston Brooks, but Freeman emphasizes that this was just the tip of the iceberg. She emphasizes that, aided by the three-fifths rule, the South dominated the Congress before 1860, and its quasi-aristocratic macho culture accepted dueling, gunplay, and fisticuffs long after it became passé in the North. This had only a modest effect until the 1830s, when opposition to slavery became a national issue. Abolitionist arguments made the South crazy. By 1840, any expression of anti-slavery opinions was illegal in those states, so most Southerners never encountered them. Sent to Congress, they were outraged. Since Northerners disliked duels and often compromised to preserve party unity, Southerners considered them sissies. This encouraged “bullying”—Freeman’s favorite term—in which Southerners threatened violence, confident that opponents, knowing the threat was genuine, would yield. As the author demonstrates, this sometimes failed because pugnacious Northerners existed, and personal insults led to lost tempers and brawls. Quiet descended with secession, when Southern representatives moved to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, where, ironically, violence flourished.

Freeman leans heavily on journalists and diarists to deliver a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional government that—minus the literal bloodshed—has been compared to today’s but was probably worse.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-15477-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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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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