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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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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