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

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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