An amazing tale that is indeed “almost too strange to be true.”

THE STRANGE CAREER OF WILLIAM ELLIS

THE TEXAS SLAVE WHO BECAME A MEXICAN MILLIONAIRE

A remarkable historical detective story that unearths the life and times of a “trickster” African-American who was able to “pass,” and strive spectacularly, as Latino.

During a time of deep racial anxiety in the United States—just after the Civil War and through the 1920s—the “color bar” was deeply pronounced and enforced in all aspects of society, from travel to public establishments to housing to marriage. Jacoby (History/Columbia Univ.; Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History, 2008, etc.) delves minutely into this unsettling history of racial relations through the life of nimble businessman William Henry Ellis, aka Guillermo Enrique Eliseo—born in 1864 to biracial slaves in Victoria, Texas—whose olive skin and facility with Spanish allowed him to move freely between the porous U.S.–Mexico border and reinvent himself in an extraordinary manner. Ellis’ ability to pass as Mexican or Cuban (or even Hawaiian) while on business above and below the border is only one facet of this fascinating story. He rode in first-class cars, stayed at length in the British-owned Hotel Gillow in Mexico City, built a trading firm on Wall Street, and married a white woman. Ellis was surely a kind of confidence man, but he was also a crusader for his race and became embroiled in Republican politics in the 1880s, cooking up a scheme to recolonize African-American tenant farmers from the cotton-picking South to a huge tract of land in northern Mexico during a time of profound labor shortages in Mexico, where racial relations were far less fraught than in America. Jacoby imparts important, unknown aspects of Mexican-American history and does a stellar feat of research in weaving together this fragmented life as just one incredible example of the American experience in all its complexity and ingenuity.

An amazing tale that is indeed “almost too strange to be true.”

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-23925-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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