A fresh and insightful perspective on a major historical figure.


Scrupulous research informs a new biography of the charismatic and influential African-American abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) has been the subject of many fine biographies, as Fought (History/LeMoyne Coll.; A History of Mystic Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town, 2007, etc.) acknowledges, but none examines as intimately Douglass’ relationships with women: his mother, slave mistresses, wives, daughters, and especially the white women who supported his causes throughout his career. His life, argues the author persuasively, was shaped by women. The first was Sophia Auld, his slave master’s wife, who spent a year teaching the young Frederick Johnson to read, until her husband forbade it. Nevertheless, “the subversive power of literacy” changed the boy’s life. He fled from enslavement to marry Anna Murray, a free woman, who shared his aspirations to move into the middle class; when they married in New York, both took the surname Douglass, hoping it would distinguish them from the many Johnsons who were sought by slave-catchers. Anna was illiterate, and although Fought portrays her as a source of strength for her husband, she could not offer the intellectual companionship and worldliness of other women who gravitated to him. At anti-slavery meetings, abolitionist societies, and women’s rights organizations, many participants were drawn to Douglass, a man some called the African Prince, “conscious of his dignity and power, grand in his physical proportions, majestic in his wrath.” Fought focuses on the British abolitionist Julia Griffiths and the German reformer Ottilie Assing, with whom Douglass could discuss politics, literature, and religion. For a time, he brought both women to live in his household, where he and his guests would retire for hours to his study, generating “marital disagreement” and slanderous gossip. Because Griffiths and Assing were white, Douglass’ critics took an opportunity to attack his morality, a campaign that intensified after the widowed Douglass married a white woman. Fought highlights ferocious in-fighting among anti-slavery groups, the Douglass family’s close ties to John Brown, and Douglass’ evolving political views.

A fresh and insightful perspective on a major historical figure.

Pub Date: May 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-978237-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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