A simplistic polemic that reduces de Tocqueville to jingoistic sloganeering.

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TOCQUEVILLE ON AMERICAN CHARACTER

American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Ledeen (Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, 1999, etc.) relates assorted selections from de Tocqueville’s writings from the 1830s to current American politics.

De Tocqueville was a wry and perceptive observer of the US in a tumultuous era, and his critique of Jacksonian democracy had a fresh, outsider’s perspective. A French aristocrat, he was simultaneously intrigued by egalitarian ideals in action and keenly aware of the ironies and paradoxes they engendered. The seemingly boundless opportunities that America promised, he argued, could not allow every citizen to realize his goals solely through individual effort. “When men are nearly alike, and all follow the same track,” he warned in Democracy in America, “it is very difficult for any one individual to walk quick and cleave a way through the same throng which surrounds and presses him.” However, the subtleties of de Tocqueville’s analysis get short shrift here. Instead, Ledeen links arbitrary snippets to long, vacuous rants on a range of topical issues, from the role of religion in public life (unfairly constrained by rampant atheism, he charges) to moral corruption (rampant, especially among liberals and intellectuals). In Ledeen’s reading, de Tocqueville unequivocally endorsed geographic and social mobility, rugged individualism, voluntary associations, religious faith, and, above all, the Horatio Alger narrative of upward mobility. This interpretation is made possible by his stout refusal to consider the selected passages in the context of the subtle and often ironic essay in which they originally appeared, let alone take into account the particular historical setting in which de Tocqueville wrote. Sometimes the flimsy premise breaks down altogether: when de Tocqueville voices his pessimism or reveals paradoxes too unequivocally to ignore (stating, for example, that “freedom of opinion does not exist in America”), Ledeen simply disregards the philosopher’s judgment, concluding that “de Tocqueville underestimated the stubbornly anticonformist individualism embedded in the American character.”

A simplistic polemic that reduces de Tocqueville to jingoistic sloganeering.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-25231-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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