A fine history of a most troubling time.



Drys vs. wets in Jazz-Age Gotham. Guess who wins.

The clear, focused text provides ample evidence of this first-time author’s wide research and deep familiarity with the relevant sources. Lerner (Assoc. Dean of Studies/Bard High School Early College) recognizes Prohibition’s central issue: the desire to define morality narrowly and to force that definition upon others. Teeming with immigrants and overflowing with booze, New York City seemed an unlikely battlefield, but William H. Anderson and his Anti-Saloon League came, saw and conquered. Anderson began his fierce and creative anti-alcohol campaign upon arrival in the city in 1914; by 1920, Prohibition was constitutional. The author does a good job of exploring and explaining Anderson’s strategies and of identifying the cultural and historical forces that enabled his initial successes, among them the identification of beer-drinking with Germans, America’s opponents in World War I. But, as Lerner notes, many counterforces weakened and then destroyed the dry movement. Alcohol had long been a part of sundry religious rituals, and the jobs of numerous New Yorkers were tied to the alcohol industry. Servers and bartenders were hurt by the ban on booze, of course, but so were truck drivers, bottle-makers, farmers and others. Lerner looks at how law enforcement and the judicial system reacted. He examines the conflicts between the federal agents and the local cops; he shows that many judges, opposed to the dry movement and overwhelmed by the vast numbers of new arrests clogging their courtrooms, simply dismissed cases or levied minimal fines. The drinking continued unabated, and a criminal class emerged to dominate the industry. Lerner ends with the 1928 and 1932 presidential campaigns of Al Smith and FDR, who both went wet. It’s disappointing that he declines to highlight contemporary parallels, since procrustean moralists remain among us, as does a “drug war.”

A fine history of a most troubling time.

Pub Date: March 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-674-02432-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2007

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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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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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