An entertaining account of a single year of unexceptional significance.

AMERICA 1844

RELIGIOUS FERVOR, WESTWARD EXPANSION, AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION THAT TRANSFORMED THE NATION

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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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...

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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