Not in the musicological class of Alan Lomax or at the historical heights of David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom,...

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SONGS OF AMERICA

PATRIOTISM, PROTEST, AND THE MUSIC THAT MADE A NATION

Historian Meacham (The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) teams up with country star McGraw to chart the course of American patriotic music from the Revolution to the present.

Significant events in American life have always had a soundtrack. Bruce Springsteen was ready with “My City of Ruins” when 9/11 occurred, having already recorded it, but it would be a while before Neil Young would release “Let’s Roll” and Alan Jackson would craft “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning?)” As McGraw writes of the songs on Springsteen’s album The Rising in one of the scattered sidebars in which he offers commentary on Meacham’s text, “it’s understandable how these songs have come to be anthems for the brave men and women of the New York fire and police departments.” Neither the main text nor McGraw’s commentary goes particularly deep, and if there’s a thesis, it might be in Meacham’s closing: “The whole panoply of America can be traced—and, more important, heard and felt—in the songs that echo through our public squares.” The authors are agreeably inclusive in their repertoire, from “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome“ to "Over There" and “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” the last of which, McGraw holds, invokes pride, adding, “maybe it’s not cool to say that.” Some songs are well known, such as “Yankee Doodle,” while readers will be glad to know some of the less-remembered tunes of the Revolution, such as “The Liberty Song.” A nice touch comes when Meacham puts the Cuban missile crisis in the context of Bob Dylan’s discography: If the missiles had flown, he notes, it’s possible that “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” “would be the last song Dylan would ever write."

Not in the musicological class of Alan Lomax or at the historical heights of David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom, but worthy reading for the anthemically minded.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-13295-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2019

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

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

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...

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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