It wasn’t all the same, though: The Republicans had a moderate wing in those days. As with all Zelizer’s books, this is a...

THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW

LYNDON JOHNSON, CONGRESS, AND THE BATTLE FOR THE GREAT SOCIETY

A sort-of-liberal president faces an intransigent, obstructionist Congress: We mean Lyndon Johnson, of course, and the class of 1966.

Zelizer (History and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.; Governing America: The Revival of Political History, 2012, etc.), a lucid writer, doesn’t need to cherry-pick to line up parallels with today. We—and many historians, he writes—tend to think of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives as programs that sailed through the legislature and, as if by magic, bettered lives through various pieces of civil rights reforms and new institutions such as the Job Corps—which “caused more controversy,” Zelizer writes, “than any other program in the [Equal Opportunity Act].” But why did the Job Corps cause such controversy? Because southerners, conservatives and state’s rights stalwarts in Congress opposed any federal program that challenged homegrown traditions such as segregation. “While some southerners grumbled about any distribution of funds to African Americans,” writes the author, “they were happy to see federal money go to the poor whites who were their constituent base.” As Zelizer notes, considerable energy in Washington went to calumny over liberalism and conservative purity and pieties, the right wing having regained considerable ground in the 1950s after the years of exile during the New Deal era. The author writes carefully of how the filibuster was exercised to quash Johnson’s programs by keeping them from coming up for a vote and of the “deadlocked democracy” that resulted. Johnson may have beaten Goldwater in 1964, but the right wing came rushing at him in the election of 1966, and of course, Richard Nixon followed two years later. The resulting opposition was fierce, and Johnson was defeated or stymied at many turns, including in his efforts to implement fair housing regulations, a nonstarter in the South—but, surprisingly, also in places like Chicago and Boston.

It wasn’t all the same, though: The Republicans had a moderate wing in those days. As with all Zelizer’s books, this is a smart, provocative study.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1594204340

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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