A nice complement to Fergus M. Bordewich’s broader survey, Washington: The Making of the American Capital (2008), offering a...

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WASHINGTON BURNING

HOW A FRENCHMAN’S VISION OF OUR NATION’S CAPITAL SURVIVED CONGRESS, THE FOUNDING FATHERS, AND THE INVADING BRITISH ARMY

Novelist and accomplished armchair historian Standiford (Writing/Florida International Univ.; Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America, 2005, etc.) gives a sprightly account of Washington, D.C.’s improbable genesis and survival.

The author frames his account with the sack of the brand-new Federal City on August 24, 1814. The British army was prompted by “the intent of teaching the upstart Americans a lesson in ‘hard war’ and reducing their capital to ashes,” he writes. President James Madison would never again inhabit the White House, and a divided Congress voted against the government’s relocation to Philadelphia; rebuilding the devastated capital became a priority. After sketching these events, Standiford returns to the beginning, dwelling at length on the states’ squabbles over where the nation’s capital should be situated. French architect and Revolutionary War veteran Peter Charles L’Enfant, fresh from his success remodeling New York’s City Hall into a Federal Hall, was enthusiastically endorsed by President Washington and others for the planning of a magnificent Federal City to rise out of the swampy wilderness along the Potomac River. L’Enfant envisioned a design that would “give an idea of the greatness of the empire,” allowing dramatic vistas for the appreciation of majestic public buildings and emphasizing the natural beauty of the land as well. However, after his power struggles with the district commissioners came to a head in 1792, he was replaced by successors who came and went through a revolving door, and Washington’s retirement and subsequent death deflated the enthusiasm for the capital’s construction. (L’Enfant spent the rest of his days in hopeless litigation to get remuneration for his work.) The British attack of 1814 was a wake-up call for the fledging nation, which had grown complacent, and Standiford does a fine job bringing to life the urgency of events.

A nice complement to Fergus M. Bordewich’s broader survey, Washington: The Making of the American Capital (2008), offering a more intimate look at L’Enfant and the crisis provoked by the British.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-34644-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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