Another gem from the author of the Pulitzer- and Bancroft Prize–winning A Midwife’s Tale (1990). (165 illustrations, 3 maps)



A chronicle of New England cloth production—as well as an exploration of the production of history.

Commonplace American objects, far from being ordinary, have contributed to our national identity, argues Ulrich (History/Harvard Univ.), who looks at 14 textiles and related tools preserved by 19th-century Americans. The accompanying tales offer the discerning eye a glimpse into 19th-century society’s ambivalence toward the Industrial Revolution. Ulrich notes that household textile production, as a symbol, held something for everyone: “For sentimentalists, spinning and weaving represented the centrality of home and family, for evolutionists the triumph of civilization over savagery, for craft revivalists the harmony of labor and art, for feminists women’s untapped productive power, and for antimodernists the virtues of a bygone age.” The author has a particular gift for richly detailed description, as when she skillfully scrutinizes a small basket dating from 1676 and its accompanying legend. An 1842 donor’s note claimed that a starving Algonkian woman made the basket in exchange for a portion of milk from a Providence garrison. This seemingly simple narrative, Ulrich demonstrates, overlays a complex historical reality of conflict between Indians and whites. Around the time the basket was made, Native Americans were attacking English settlements, killing cattle and destroying hay in hopes of eliminating the settlers’ livelihood. Why would a native woman approach an enemy garrison in wartime and ask for food that wasn’t part of her diet? In a splendidly detailed chapter, Ulrich shows that while the donor’s account may contain historical truths, it also contains romantic elements common to 19th-century narratives. Examining such diverse items as an unfinished stocking, a silk embroidery, and a flamboyantly decorated wooden cupboard, she considers the relations between English settlers and neighboring tribes, the evolution of household production from a male to a female economy, and the construction of identity.

Another gem from the author of the Pulitzer- and Bancroft Prize–winning A Midwife’s Tale (1990). (165 illustrations, 3 maps)

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-44594-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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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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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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