A delightful look at the last century-turning year. This book represents a good idea. The question of whether a century begins with a year ending in zero or one means that we get to celebrate the beginning of a new hundred-year cycle twice, and the interim period between New Year’s Days takes on a special significance for calendar watchers. Crichton, award-winning executive producer of PBS’s The American Experience, tracks the year 1900 on a month-by-month basis, weaving together stories of individuals and events, high drama and mundane life. Some phenomena span the entire year, notably the presidential election and the early stages of the Philippine insurrection; in both cases our knowledge of future tragedy makes the description more poignant. In politics we see not only the major milestones—party conventions and election day—but also the strain of the campaign on Bryan and Roosevelt, the leisured approach of McKinley, and the back room power plays. Some phenomena provide dramatic moments in time, notably the multinational effort to rescue besieged Westerners in Peking during the Boxer rebellion and the coal miners’ strike in Pennsylvania. Events of varying levels of meaning—the Paris Exposition, the Harvard-Yale football game, the deal between Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan that created US Steel—along with the activities of varying individuals—Jack London, Paul Dunbar, and Theodore Roosevelt—are recounted in the context of the life of the age. Crichton keeps us focused on 1900 throughout, eschewing the temptation to continually draw lessons for the future, yet it is impossible to avoid thinking about whether that year’s trauma and triumph, corruption and character, would be preferable to our own. Somehow a president’s sexual dalliances seem comparatively superficial. Then again, we are not yet to the year 2000. An extremely enjoyable account. (100 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5365-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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