Contrarian and well-written—a welcome remedy to Parson Weems–ish tales of the past.



An iconoclastic, provocative study of the Revolutionary War that invalidates a few chestnuts—including the one that the surrendering British played “The World Turned Upside Down” at Yorktown.

“There is no hard evidence,” writes former Military Book Club editor Stephenson (ed., Battlegrounds: Geography and Art of Warfare, 2003), that the British played anything other than a slow march, befitting the mournful occasion. There is plenty of evidence, though, that the war was a tough business for all concerned. Proceeding cautiously, Stephenson makes a case that will induce teeth-gnashing on the right-wing talk-show circuit, namely that, inasmuch as “colonial wars share a certain geometry,” it is not beyond the pale to liken the rebel colonial struggle in America to nationalist insurgencies in places such as Vietnam and Iraq, where American soldiers now take the place of the imperialist lobsterbacks of old. (In case the point is lost, Stephenson notes that George Bush is more George III than George Washington.) Whatever the parallels, Stephenson observes that an army with a home-field advantage has vastly better odds of survival than one in a different country and culture; moreover, it is part of that geometry that militias will take it as a priority to crush loyalism, wherever it might be encountered. In the American colonies, this meant civil war on several fronts, though the loyalists were at their strongest in New York and New Jersey, one reason the British tried so hard to center the war there, where they could count on the help of friends. After examining such matters as the lives of officers, who had it easier than the enlisted men if only because they could resign without being hanged or beheaded as deserters, and the musket-and-mutton material world of the soldiery, Stephenson turns to more familiar ground, analyzing the war’s most important battles and sometimes, as with Trenton, musing about why things didn’t work out disastrously for the American cause.

Contrarian and well-written—a welcome remedy to Parson Weems–ish tales of the past.

Pub Date: April 3, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-073261-X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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