Consistently interesting, the Levines’ gathering of letters will be useful to any student of 20th-century American history.




An illuminating collection in which Americans talk back after listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed fireside chats.

“Tell me your troubles,” FDR invited after his first chat on March 4, 1933, and so the nation did, flooding Washington with millions of letters—most of which, note historian Lawrence Levine (The Opening of the American Mind, 1996) and independent scholar Cornelia Levine, were read, many of which were responded to, and all of which were carefully stored away in the White House archives. Wading through this sea of correspondence was surely a daunting task, but the Levines have exercised fine judgment in selecting the hundreds of texts that make up these pages, using them, often inventive language and all, to shed light on historical events now buried away in textbooks. Following a succession of bank failures that plagued the early days of his first term, for instance, Roosevelt urged his listeners to give the shored-up system their confidence: “I can assure you, my friends, that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress.” His listeners responded, in turn, with sentiments such as, “bankers who have betrayed trusts imposed in them shall be brought to trial and punished,” or, “I felt heartily ashamed that I did not vote for you last November and I sincerely hope your acts will be successful in relieving our country of at least some of it’s present depressing influences so that I will feel even more ashamed of myself.” The letters were not always so positive, and many that the Levines reproduce take Roosevelt to task over such matters as allying the US with England against Germany (“Yanks are not coming we will not die for Wall Street,” one telegram reads), advocating peacetime military conscription, and failing to act on Jim Crow discrimination laws. Almost all are respectful, however—even the few certifiably loony ones.

Consistently interesting, the Levines’ gathering of letters will be useful to any student of 20th-century American history.

Pub Date: June 13, 2002

ISBN: 0-8070-5510-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2002

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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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