BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT

REVOLUTION AND MODERNITY, 1820-1860

A woolly, meandering analysis of commercial, rootless America in the Age of Jackson. Perry (History/Vanderbilt University) has homed in on narrower, more easily defined turf here than in his Intellectual Life in America (1984)—but hasn't produced a vigorously argued work. In tracing ``the origin of enduring tensions in what Americans hoped and believed about themselves and their society,'' he endeavors to show that our era's sense of change and loss is nothing new: For many Americans in the postrevolutionary period dominated by Andrew Jackson in politics and Ralph Waldo Emerson in literature, the past had become another country. But Perry records impressions of seismic shock unleashed by the entrepreneurial, ever-transforming nation, and doesn't record the change itself. Overhanging his account, and never answered satisfactorily, are several questions: Since American society from its beginnings was in constant ferment, what made the Jacksonian era so different? Exactly which conditions left observers so stunned at the rapidity of change? And why has Perry limited his analysis to foreign visitors (e.g., Alexis de Tocqueville and Frederika Bremer) and mostly northeastern intellectuals (Olmsted, Emerson, Thoreau, and abolitionist Theodore Parker)? There are a number of fascinating observations here—for instance, on the populist Jackson's desire to be considered a gentleman; on Tocqueville's brilliance of argument but lack of specificity about what he saw; and on the transient culture of peddlers, showmen, preachers, and gamblers. But Perry fails both to weave these points into a coherent framework and to draw compelling portraits of what Emerson might have called ``representative men'' of this turbulent time. During the 40-year period depicted here, the US declared its cultural independence from Britain and became a strapping giant of a nation that nearly destroyed itself over slavery. But one would never understand the sources of these creative and destructive tensions from Perry's history, presented without flair or logical unity.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-506091-1

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1993

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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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