A sappily sentimental but nevertheless vital look at America’s neighborhood.



Too-easy-by-half portrait of New York City’s most famous toehold on the mainland.

The book is an oral history of a teeming, immigrant-packed American city that looms large in the nation’s psyche, but this is no Division Street, and pop biographer Eliot (Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, 2006, etc.) is no Studs Terkel. He begins poorly with a hokey introduction that seems to be trying to set a cliché record in describing just how awesome (AWESOME!) Brooklyn is. The first chapter, on Coney Island, offers little better, as “the cyclonic roller-coaster ride that is Coney Island’s future continues to soar and dip.” Subsequent, crudely slapped-together sections on Sheepshead Bay, music and Dem Bums (the Dodgers) prompt fears that the entire book is going to be like that. Then, at about the halfway mark, comes a man speaking his mind about Brooklyn: “It’s a shit-fuckin’-hole of roaches and rats,” he declares before laying into “all of that candy store nostalgia and egg cream crap.” Unfortunately, Eliot gives far too much space to that crap, with long-gone-to-Hollywood entertainers getting teary-eyed about stickball and tenements and dear old Mom. Finally, in the book’s second half, he starts to include occasional voices of dissent speaking unpalatable truths. Acknowledging the borough’s racism, a rabbi talks about how an entire block would shift from white to black within a month. Blunt recollections of gang violence dispel the impression conveyed earlier that it somehow didn’t exist back in the Good Old Days. There’s some sadness here, and a more hard-hitting type of nostalgia: not for the old days of the Dodgers and trolley cars, but for a time when neighborhoods of different ethnicities still interacted out of necessity. Brooklyn comes across in the end as a crowded, sprawling, beautiful, ugly dream of a place that people can’t wait to get out of and then spend the rest of their lives unable to forget.

A sappily sentimental but nevertheless vital look at America’s neighborhood.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7679-2014-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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...


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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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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