A useful corrective to the historical record by a trustworthy narrator.



An engaging account of those six days in October when it seemed as if the world were coming to an end.

Veteran New York Times journalist and editor Frankel (The Times of My Life, 1999) covered Khrushchev in Moscow and Kennedy in Washington, and he brings a balanced appreciation for the motivations driving and obstacles facing both leaders as they confronted each other in the fall of 1962. Many things were at issue, Frankel writes, but one factor was that the Soviet premier worked from a sense of insecurity: “It was to offset a debilitating weakness, not to imperil America, that Khrushchev careered into the crisis.” At the same time, he suggests that the Soviet decision to place intermediate-range missiles in the satellite state of Cuba was not without provocation: Khrushchev and many of his lieutenants were deeply resentful of a recent US decision to locate Jupiter missiles in neighboring Turkey, aimed directly at the Soviet Union. Interestingly, writes Frankel, the Soviet ploy—which would have required the presence of more than 40,000 technicians, soldiers, and support staff—barely involved the Castro regime, which was largely kept out of the loop even as Fidel clamored to advertise the deployment of missiles as a nose-thumbing to the hated Yanquis. Though he growled convincingly, Khrushchev, Frankel believes, was “decidedly less menacing than the man we had all pictured from afar”; he was more concerned with making symbolic gestures and attained face-saving concessions than with actually touching off the next holocaust. Similarly, Frankel writes, Kennedy had no desire for war, and—by sharp contrast with the current administration—he took pains to consider how European and Latin American allies would view his actions. They rattled sabers with not much intention of using them, and in the end, Frankel holds, both leaders “found it useful to exaggerate the danger they had surmounted” for political reasons, though it did neither any good. A crisis, then, but less dangerous than we thought.

A useful corrective to the historical record by a trustworthy narrator.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-46505-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Presidio/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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