Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher.

HEY, AMERICA, YOUR ROOTS ARE SHOWING

ADVENTURES IN DISCOVERING NEWS-MAKING CONNECTIONS, UNEXPECTED ANCESTORS, AND LONG-HIDDEN SECRETS, AND SOLVING HISTORICAL PUZZLES

History’s mysteries solved by a dogged genealogist.

Readers may recognize Smolenyak (Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family’s History, 2010, etc.) from her many TV and radio appearances discussing her instrumental role nailing down Barack Obama’s Irish roots, researching the First Lady’s family tree or establishing the Reverend Al Sharpton’s slave ancestors as the property of the notorious segregationist Strom Thurmond’s family. She’s generated a slew of other headline-grabbing articles that help fill in the crevices of American history: identifying the real Annie Moore, Ellis Island’s first immigrant, or recovering the life story of Philip Reed, the former slave responsible for the casting the bronze statue of Freedom atop the nation’s Capitol. Sometimes, the historical riddle lies in an artifact. What’s the story behind a Yiddish inscribed tombstone found leaning against a fire hydrant on the Lower East Side? What’s the provenance of a Bible rescued from a Civil War battlefield? In this breezy narrative, Smolenyak supplies the back story to these and other investigations, allowing us to look over the shoulder of a relentless genealogist as she works the puzzle pieces of her craft. More commonly, she’s busy finding the “primary next of kin” for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, putting medical examiners in touch with the families of unclaimed persons, helping the FBI revisit troubling cases of racially motivated homicide during the civil-rights era or assisting everyday folks with their adoption searches. Whether unearthing evidence from Internet databases, newspaper offices, court houses, libraries and cemeteries, consulting translators, historians or her vast network of fellow genealogists, pioneering the use of genealogical DNA testing, solving the mystery or occasionally hitting a brick wall, Smolenyak remains wholly committed, curious and cheery (exclamation marks abound), eager to share her methods and excitement.

Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8065-3446-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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