A delightful book that is just plain fun to read, packed with all kinds of curious facts and oddities.

WASHINGTON'S MONUMENT

AND THE FASCINATING HISTORY OF THE OBELISK

Gordon (An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power, 2004) uses a history of the Washington Monument to present an enjoyable tale of Egypt’s obelisks, the nations who appropriated them, and how they moved them.

The author interlaces the story of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, the “tallest structure, by law,” in Washington, D.C., with the tales of ancient Rome, Paris, and London, civilizations that collected as much of Egypt’s antiquity as possible. The book is stuffed with interesting facts, not the least of which are the ingenious methods used to lower, transport, and re-erect the obelisks. Napoleon, even in his military failure in Egypt, mounted a major scientific expedition responsible for finding the Rosetta Stone. It was the carvings on an obelisk that enabled Jean-François Champollion to utilize the stone to decipher hieroglyphics. From the time of Caesar Augustus to the erection of Cleopatra’s Needle in New York’s Central Park, humans have found ways to roll, float, tow, and tip these multiton objects in spaces public and private. One of the smallest obelisks was discovered by England’s great Egyptologist William John Bankes, and it stands today in his gardens in Dorset. Once construction began, Washington’s edifice took 40 years to build. Although it was originally proposed in 1783, actual construction did not begin until 1848. Attempting to secure private funding only held the project back until Congress finally agreed to support it with a grant in 1876. The design was decried as a factory chimney or a stalk of asparagus, but the finished product, with no ornamentation save for an aluminum (more fun facts here) pyramid atop to reflect sunlight, dominates the city and serves as a wonderful symbol of the United States.

A delightful book that is just plain fun to read, packed with all kinds of curious facts and oddities.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-650-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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