Sarna (History/Brandeis Univ.; A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew, 2008, etc.) nimbly reappraises Grant’s presidency as ushering a “golden age” for American Jews, despite the short-lived expulsion order he couldn’t live down.

General Orders No. 11, published in 1862 by Gen. Grant as head of the Union Army’s Department of the Tennessee, decreed that “Jews as a class” were to be expelled from the department because of “violating every regulation of trade”—i.e., on account of smuggling. While the order was issued during the pressing exigencies of wartime, then swiftly revoked by President Lincoln when visited by prominent Kentucky merchant Cesar Kaskel and Ohio Congressman John Addison Gurley some weeks later, Grant was vilified by the Jewish community—nearly 150,000 citizens—and hard-pressed to exonerate himself as presidential candidate, then president. Sarna expertly navigates the repercussions of this shocking order, which galvanized the American Jewish community to action, reminding many who were refugees from European expulsions how insecure they were even in America. It also deeply divided the Jewish community when faced with the 1868 Grant-Seymour presidential election. The order aroused a passionate debate both in the Senate, where some Democratic members moved to censure the (Republican) general, unsuccessfully, and in the press, which spoke out against the stereotyping and scapegoating of the Jews as “swindlers.” (Sarna evenhandedly considers the extent to which Jews were involved in smuggling.) Moreover, with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, Jews expressed their consternation that the rise in status for blacks came at the cost of their own abasement. Jewish leaders such as Simon Wolf and Isaac Mayer Wise wrestled with the ethics of backing the modern-day Haman, as Grant was called, or support the racist, anti-black Democrats. Sarna weighs the short-lived order against important Jewish appointments in Grant’s administration, his humanitarian support for oppressed Jews around the world and lasting friendships with Jews. A well-argued exoneration of a president and a sturdy scholarly study.  


Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4279-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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

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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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