MAXIMUM CITY

THE BIOGRAPHY OF NEW YORK

Pye, a British novelist (The King Over the Water, 1981, etc.) and journalist living in New York, has put together a brittle, impressionistic collage of historical and contemporary items—on early Dutch rule and misrule; immigrant hopes and disillusionment; sexual politics; snobbish Society; the struggle to make it in ``audition city,'' and more—for a portrait-in-time that he calls a ``biography'' of N.Y.C., though there's little sense of organic life or rhythm in its various staccato accounts. Pye's New York—``inconvenient, filthy, crime-ridden, unstable''—is ``a city in decline''; but decline from what? His sweeping historical sketches emphasize greed, corruption, failure, poverty, persecution, and violence from the beginning. What's missing is any sense of the city's charms, whether gritty or glamorous. Though Pye points to the ``myth'' of New York as filtered through films and other images, he doesn't convey the allure (if he even feels it). And though there's enough nasty detail here to add to anyone's store, the material won't be substantially new to readers acquainted with the topics at hand—be they the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, the murder of ``architect and voluptuary'' Stanford White in 1906, the murder of sleeping Indians by an early Dutch governor, the suicide of Queens Borough President Donald Manes, or the sad saga of Robert Moses. (A closing bit on a gay male couple who've adopted three brothers, two of whom suffer from childhood AIDS, seems like the ending to a different book.) First published in England, this probably works best as an interpretation for foreigners, not as an analysis that can help us understand ourselves.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-85619-093-5

Page Count: 437

Publisher: Sinclair-Stevenson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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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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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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