A fascinating history that faces still-difficult questions of injustice and responsibility.




A comprehensive exploration of a bizarre, contested murder in the plantation South on the eve of the Civil War.

Wayne (The Reshaping of Plantation Society, not reviewed) describes an incident that obliquely dramatizes the cruelties and absurdities of the “peculiar institution.” Shortly after overseer Duncan Skinner was reported missing by the slaves of Clarissa Sharpe’s plantation, a search party was organized and Skinner was found dead, apparently killed in a riding accident (or so a coroner’s jury concluded). But local planters soon discovered that all the slaves believed a different story: namely, that three male slaves had killed the overseer for his money and arranged the scene. The three killers were accorded representation in what was essentially a show trial, and were then hanged. The local planters, however, attributed the conspiracy to a non-slave–owning white carpenter, John McAllin, who was believed to have had designs on Miss Sharpe. They subsequently threatened him with retaliatory violence via a newspaper ad that urged him to leave town. McAllin in turn asserted his innocence in an equally fiery ad that put the planters in an untenable position, as it struck at the severe class differences between slaveholders and white laborers in the antebellum South. At the time, McAllin’s culpability was generally accepted. Using many obscure primary-source documents, Wayne debates this thesis, pursuing alternative explanations that centered upon the need of pro-slavery whites to manipulate perceptions of their African chattel as alternately childlike and brutal, and maintain their authority over the restive group of impoverished whites represented by McAllin. He astutely concludes that Southern whites “held to contradictory interpretations of black character and drew on them as circumstances and their own psychological needs dictated.”

A fascinating history that faces still-difficult questions of injustice and responsibility.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-514004-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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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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