Solid Western history that enhances the understanding of a tragic tale by highlighting the strong human dimension through...

THE BEST LAND UNDER HEAVEN

THE DONNER PARTY IN THE AGE OF MANIFEST DESTINY

Prolific popular writer Wallis (David Crockett: Lion of the West, 2011, etc.) brings his storytelling skills to an unusual episode in American westward expansion.

Within the grand story of Manifest Destiny, the quest for land and settlement from coast to coast, lies the ill-fated saga of two diverse families that set out by wagon train from Springfield, Illinois, and then to the traditional jumping-off point of Independence, Missouri, en route to California. When they began their trek in early 1846, the extended Donner and Reed families had already been part of the great wave of immigration from Europe as well as Southern, border, and Midwestern states. Initially part of a larger convoy, they and their employees—eventually nearly 90 people in all—chose to break off and pursue a separate, nontraditional route. That proved to be a disastrous mistake, both because of their relative inexperience and the string of obstacles that confronted them. Internal dissension, wagon breakdowns, the loss of livestock, difficult terrain, and extreme weather dogged the travelers. But looming ahead was the most difficult challenge: the impending winter in the Sierra Nevada. As Wallis recounts in his fluid narrative, heavy snow brought widespread starvation and death. Nearly half the party perished, and after four relief efforts, the most shocking aspect of the expedition was discovered: some survivors had resorted to cannibalism. Although the Donner Party has attracted attention over the years and has achieved a certain macabre fascination in Western lore, Wallis succeeds in offering new documentary evidence as well as an absorbing narrative. He provides valuable insight into a 19th-century phenomenon in which thousands of pioneers sought land, new opportunities, and adventure in support of American exceptionalism.

Solid Western history that enhances the understanding of a tragic tale by highlighting the strong human dimension through the accounts of participants before, during, and after the expedition.

Pub Date: May 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-769-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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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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