The hymn’s growth and adaptation provides a decent story, but not a 300-page one; 100 would have been more than sufficient.




The history of the hymn that began as a revival hymn in 1807, morphed into a soldiers’ marching song and served to replace sorrow with resolve as it did after 9/11.   

Stauffer (English and American Literature; African-American Studies/Harvard Univ.; Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, 2008, etc.) and Soskis (Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy and Policy/George Mason Univ.) trace the song’s beginnings as “Say Brothers, Will You Meet us” to “John Brown’s Body” and Julia Ward Howe’s version written in 1861. The song has been used to reflect national ideals, borrowing images from the Bible as a call to action whenever war reared its ugly head. The Howe version became a symbol of the reunification of the North and South, at least in the North. The hymn highly offended Confederates, as it reminded them of the words of the "John Brown’s Body" version sung by Union soldiers, which swore to hang “Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree.” Various versions with new or adjusted lyrics have appeared, modifying the song’s imperialistic bent and millennial aspersions. It has been used to express fears, feuds, righteousness and a providentially blessed nation in times of crisis, and it invariably rouses the masses. This powerful song has been called into action by such diverse causes as labor movements, Spanish-American War anti-imperialists, Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and leaders of the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, the lengthy biographies of the various adapters of the lyrics are superfluous and, quite frankly, boring.

The hymn’s growth and adaptation provides a decent story, but not a 300-page one; 100 would have been more than sufficient.

Pub Date: June 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-19-983743-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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