A vigorous, well-written multicultural history of the West as it really was.

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HOBOES

BINDLESTIFFS, FRUIT TRAMPS, AND THE HARVESTING OF THE WEST

History in the Howard Zinn school, with working people taking the fore, finally acknowledged for their contributions in settling the frontier.

The Western history many people schooled before the 1970s grew up with is an affair of steely-jawed Anglo pioneers and stalwart but inconveniently located American Indians. The more comprehensive version that has followed allows for “Navajos and Klickitats, African Americans and Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Hindus, Filipinos, and Puerto Ricans, among others.” This view shows that the West developed less by individuals than by a 19th-century version of the military-industrial complex, with railroad rights-of-way and resource concessions to the public domain. Historian Wyman (The Wisconsin Frontier, 1998, etc.) situates a sturdy narrative on this ground, writing principally of the migrant agricultural workers who came from all over the world to work the factory fields. The relationship between workers and owners was never easy, he writes. At points there were too many workers and not enough work, at others seasons in which labor was so scarce that, as one 1884 federal report put it, “Farmers have been compelled to take what help they could get, whether they were white or Chinamen, nor has it been a strange sight to see in California women and children labor in the fields.” Thus the origins of imported labor from Mexico, a matter that reverberates in the current cacophony over immigration. The migrant worker, or “western hobo,” had three things in his favor: the likelihood of a crop’s being ruined if not harvested quickly, lack of a large labor pool in the West and rail lines to take him wherever he needed to be. The owner had money, the police, the Army and much more. In their contending powers, and in strikes and massacres, lie forgotten episodes that Wyman ably covers.

A vigorous, well-written multicultural history of the West as it really was.

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3021-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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