As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.




Wide-ranging anthology of narratives and literary works related to slavery and its abolition in the U.S.

“Focusing on the voices and actions of formerly enslaved Black people and lesser-known abolitionists,” volume editor Commander writes, this collection draws on the holdings of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she is a curator. (Kevin Young is the director of the Schomburg and the series editor.) Built on the Schomburg’s extensive archive of African American literature, the anthology incorporates excerpts from rare and little-known documents, among them courtroom testimonials concerning a 1740 “Negro plot” of arson and murder in New York and, 40 years later, an uprising laid at the door of “Denmark Vesey, a free black man,” which resulted in dozens of supposed conspirators being “hung on the Lines.” Other documents contrast the insurrections of John Brown and Nat Turner, the latter of whose fighters, a chronicler wrote, “were humaner than Indians or than white men fighting against Indians—there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation.” Precipitants of the Civil War, such uprisings and insurrections were far from isolated, though often accompanied by quieter acts of resistance. In 1849, for instance, one brave man shipped himself north from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in a coffinlike box, tossed and tumbled to a freedom that was not complete thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act: “I now stand before you as a free man, but since my arrival among you, I have been informed that your laws require that I should still be held as a slave.” (Fortunately, he escaped to England.) Commander’s well-chosen collection also includes literary works by Black writers such as Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, who wrote a play of the Underground Railroad excerpted here whose use of dialect (“I doesn’t like to say it, but Ise might ’fraid you’s gwine to lose your gal”) is unusual among the stirring oratory of the earlier abolitionists but that certainly has its place among the dozens of voices here.

As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313608-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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