UNDER THE BLUE PENNANT

OR NOTES OF A NAVAL OFFICER

While researching another book, historian Schneller (A Quest for Glory: A Biography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, not reviewed) discovered this never-before-published memoir of a young officer’s experience in the Union navy. Grattan was a young Brooklynite who served first in the army until1862, then was mustered out—probably for medical reasons—and enlisted in the navy in1863. Although his family origins are unclear, his writing and general literacy indicate that he was well educated and from a middle-class or higher background. Grattan was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading squadron and spent most of his naval career “under the blue pennant,” or serving on a flagship. The memoir he later wrote paints a unique portrait of life in the Union navy, offering fascinating glimpses of Federal blockading actions which aided (invaluably) the cause of Northern victory. Also of note is the depiction of relationships between the officers and men of the navy and their African-American stewards (serving in the only available role for blacks in the navy). Grattan’s writing is sharp and surprisingly unaffected by the flowery prose of typical Victorian memoirs; although it does wax repetitive, overall this is a surprisingly lively and modern read. The author’s profuse details show a side of the war effort that few readers could have imagined, such as dinners that would sound more believable on the Titanic than on any US naval vessel. His descriptions of combat are more than believable, though sometimes woodenly penned. Schneller’s foreword places Grattan in a context that illuminates the memoir. And his notes (fortunately incorporated into the text, not printed as endnotes) are informative and easily read by the nonhistorian. A welcome addition to our knowledge about the lives of men who served in the Civil War. (45 photos, 5 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: March 12, 1999

ISBN: 0-471-24043-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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