A thoughtful consideration of Washington’s wisdom that couldn’t be timelier.



Why George Washington’s last message proves apposite to our own time.

After two terms as America’s first president, Washington bid farewell by publishing in a daily newspaper a long, heartfelt address, warning his countrymen about the forces that could threaten democracy. Editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast and former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, Avlon (Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, 2010, etc.) analyzes that address and other of Washington’s writings to create a vivid portrait of the struggles that marked the nation’s early years. Washington had been a reluctant first president, but his experiences as an army commander served him well as a peacetime strategist facing dissension among the prickly, squabbling members of his administration. Admired as a general, he was “pilloried” as president and saw the rise of opposing political parties, something the Founding Fathers had not foreseen. “There was an idealistic assumption among the founders,” writes the author, “that elected representatives would reason together as individuals.” Washington clearly saw the perils that the nation still faces: he believed that “partisan impulses needed to be restrained by a wise and vigilant citizenry” or risk the rise of demagogues. Liberal education was vital to an enlightened population who could participate responsibly in civic matters. He worried that self-interest and regional, rather than national, identity could lead to disunity. Citizens needed to recognize the benefits of a central government that provided “equal laws and equal protection.” That protection extended to religion, ensuring pluralism so that no sect would “degenerate into a political faction.” As for foreign policy, Washington advised independence but not isolationism. Avlon engagingly traces the afterlife of the address, showing how subsequent presidents cherry-picked ideas consistent with their own political views. He argues persuasively that the document deserves the serious reading that he offers. “Armed with a sense of perspective,” he writes, “we can take some comfort that our domestic divisions too shall pass.”

A thoughtful consideration of Washington’s wisdom that couldn’t be timelier.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4646-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?