Discovering seeds of democracy in Massachusetts’ zealots or Virginia’s autocratic patricians has never been easy, but...




An insightful re-examination of the 1607 Jamestown settlement, the story of which is beginning to replace the Mayflower’s as America’s founding myth.

Kelly (Literature/Coll. of Charleston; America’s Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March Toward Civil War, 2013), the editor of the Seagull Reader series, opens with a recounting of the settlement’s dismal beginning. Ships brought about 100 adventurers searching for gold and a passage to the Pacific. Neither turned up, and, unable to obtain food from the unwelcoming natives, most starved to death. Some deserted to the Indians. Others followed John Smith, an ambitious, pugnacious soldier of fortune who made himself leader in 1608 and probably saved the colony by extorting food from native villages. On his decree, “he that will not work shall not eat,” rests his “reputation as the first American.” However, writes Kelly, “appealing as that view is, it misinterprets what really happened that day in Jamestown. Meritocracy was not established. Democracy did not vanquish aristocracy. John Smith was a tyrant.” Mass starvation resumed when he left in 1609, but settlers continued to pour in, eventually exterminating the Indians, and a thriving plantation economy developed. Historians traditionally blame Jamestown’s early years on leaders who—John Smith excepted—couldn’t handle the unskilled, lazy, and rebellious workers. Kelly makes an astute point: Aristocrats wrote every original document from those years. Reading between the lines, the author points out that the “lower sort” had no say in their governance and were expected to follow orders slavishly. They felt cast into the wilderness, marooned. Many realized that Britain’s class system didn’t apply in their new land and that survival required everyone’s cooperation both in labor and government. Their repeated rebellions were quashed, often viciously, although a limited electoral oligarchy took shape as the century progressed.

Discovering seeds of democracy in Massachusetts’ zealots or Virginia’s autocratic patricians has never been easy, but Kelly’s lively, heavily researched, frequently gruesome account gives a slight nod to Jamestown as the “better place to look for the genesis of American ideals.”

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63286-777-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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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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