A curious, little-known episode of Sino-American history vividly told.

FORTUNATE SONS

THE 120 CHINESE BOYS WHO CAME TO AMERICA, WENT TO SCHOOL, AND REVOLUTIONIZED AN ANCIENT CIVILIZATION

Desperate to modernize in the final days of empire, China launches a bold educational experiment.

By the second half of the 19th century, the Qing dynasty ruled half-a-billion Chinese, with 40,000 civilian and military officials administering the government. The imperial system’s calcified bureaucracy, resistant to change, wedded to Confucianism and wary of foreign intercourse, struggled with a tottering economy, domestic rebellions and repeated humiliations at the hands of Western powers. One powerful statesman, Li Hongzhang, sought to reform the educational system by sending students to America to learn the new ways of thinking and returning them to China as a core group of future leaders. Under the direction of the Yale-educated Yung Wing, over a period of nearly a decade, 120 boys attended high schools and colleges, mostly in New England, as a part of the Chinese Educational Mission. Under assault from court critics who feared Western corruption of the young men, Li recalled the mission in 1880. Although a remarkably large number of the boys eventually rose to power and influence in China, Leibovitz and Miller (Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II, 2008) wisely focus on only a dozen or so, tracking their journey to Hartford, Conn., the Mission’s base of operations, their acculturation to Gilded Age American society and their troubled reentry to a China tumultuously passing from corrupt empire to shaky republic. The authors’ effective, quick-stroke treatment of momentous historical events, their sensitive portraits of schoolboys who became technological, military, industrial and commercial reformers and their deft juxtaposition of two cultures, one on the rise, the other coming apart, make for a rich, multilayered tale. Today, China and America warily circle each other, and China is once again furiously attempting to modernize, busy recapitulating many of the same struggles and absorbing many of the same lessons that the Mission boys learned so many years ago.

A curious, little-known episode of Sino-American history vividly told.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07004-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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