Informative but often unwieldy history of a pivotal period for race relations in the American South.



A Reconstruction-era kidnapping incident in the Deep South gets put under the historical microscope.

Ross (History/Univ. of Maryland; Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era, 2003) calls his legal nonfiction tale “a work of micro-history….It mines a single historical moment for insights into both the history of New Orleans and the Reconstruction era.” The author relates the now-obscure 1870 incident of the kidnapping of Mollie Digby, the young child of Irish immigrants Thomas and Bridgette Digby, and the subsequent trial of the two African-American kidnapping suspects, Creoles Ellen Follin and Louisa Murray. The event was to prove a watershed moment, however short-lived, in the 19th-century history of racial justice in the American Deep South. Ross also follows the fortunes of men like John Baptiste Jourdain, an African-American detective assigned to the Digby case, whose life would be significantly transformed forever by it. Ross’ historical work here is commendable, but what the book lacks is a sure-footed sense of dramatic pacing: The courtroom scenario that dominates the book is simply too long and drawn out, especially considering that the fate of Mollie Digby is made clear early on. Much of the book is centered on simply learning the motives for the kidnapping and whether Follin and Murray would be exonerated or found guilty by a multiracial New Orleans jury. Importantly though, Ross does show how the trial was used as a source of exploitation for anti-integrationist Southern politicians in the late 19th century who would later help usher in the nefarious Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” laws. “Because all black people were now free,” writes the author, “newspaper editors warned readers to expect ever more horrific crimes committed by black individuals unless the perpetrators were found and incarcerated.”

Informative but often unwieldy history of a pivotal period for race relations in the American South.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-19-977880-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2014

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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