LINCOLN'S UNKNOWN PRIVATE LIFE

AN ORAL HISTORY BY HIS BLACK HOUSEKEEPER MARIAH VANCE, 1850-1860

An oddly compelling memoir documenting the tumultuous home life of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Mariah Vance worked in Lincoln's Springfield home during the decade preceding his election to the presidency. The narrative is constructed from her oral history as recorded by Adah Sutton from 1900 to 1904. Vance, then in her 80s, shows here that Lincoln's marriage was far from happy. Mary is addicted to paregoric, jealous, socially ambitious, and prone to rages wherein she threatens her husband with kitchen knives. Lincoln, forebearing but tormented, nevertheless possesses a good-natured mischievousness in addition to his famous melancholy, dotes on his children, and is genuinely concerned for Vance's welfare. He also displays the rough manners that attracted the derisive nickname ``railsplitter.'' At table with the cream of Springfield society, he sits barefoot, collarless, ``[drinking] juice left from the dessert out of the sauce dish'' and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Some events strain credulity, such as Mary's reported confession, on only Vance's third visit, that her husband doesn't love her. Admiration of ``Mistah Abe'' nudges Vance's memoir toward hagiography, an inclination abetted by the stiff rendition of Lincoln's speech. Thinking it disrespectful to quote Lincoln in Vance's black dialect, Sutton rewrote his lines; this stilted dialogue makes him sound like a self-righteous pedagogue. Anticipating criticism that Vance's recollections amount to a ``prairie Upstairs, Downstairs,'' Ostendorf, a collector of Lincoln memorabilia, and journalist Loesky (who clarified the black English in Sutton's transcript) go to great lengths to shore up this remarkable history's credibility, but including a facsimile of Sutton's entire 259-page handwritten manuscript does little to mitigate the sloppy presentation of textual notes. A fascinating mix of mythmaking and keyhole history likely to sow dissension among keepers of the Lincoln flame. Best read with a more rigorous biographyand a grain of salt.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8038-9375-2

Page Count: 600

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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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