An entertaining account of a single year of unexceptional significance.




Longtime political journalist Bicknell (co-editor: Politics in America 2012, 2011) presents a diverting snapshot of America in 1844.

It was a time of great enthusiasms, some good, some not. Philadelphia was rocked twice by nativist riots against Irish Catholics. The followers of William Miller prepared to welcome Christ's return to Earth, first in March, then in October, with disappointing results. John C. Frémont returned from an exploratory mission to Oregon and California as parties of settlers headed West from Missouri; Bicknell follows one of these, chronicling one family's tribulations on the journey. Political passions raged in this presidential election year, particularly over the proposed annexation of the Republic of Texas, an issue that provoked controversies over the territorial expansion of slavery and the likelihood of war with Mexico. The Whigs chose Henry Clay as their nominee, replacing the unpopular incumbent John Tyler; Clay proceeded to shoot himself in the foot repeatedly with ill-conceived statements fudging his position on Texas. The pro-annexation dark horse James K. Polk emerged with the Democrats' nomination after a protracted convention battle reported in real time over Morse's new telegraph. The Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was also a candidate but was murdered by a mob in jail. Bicknell tells all these stories and more with enthusiasm, exceptional narrative skills and sound historical judgment. Ultimately, however, the events of this rather ordinary year never cohere into a thematic whole, a sense that the events unique to 1844 really made much of a difference. The problems of the Millerites and Mormons affected only a few, and resolution of the Texas issue was deferred to another day. While a Clay presidency would have taken the country down a very different path, Bicknell concedes that Polk's victory did not result from a decisive turning point in national attitudes but happened largely because Clay just wasn't a very good candidate.

An entertaining account of a single year of unexceptional significance.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1613730102

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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...


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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