Entertaining historical excavation.

A nicely spun yarn of religious chicanery on the frontier in a nearly forgotten historical episode.

Harvey has a pronounced fondness for obscure characters from American history. In this book, the center of his attention is James Strang (1813-1856), a scoundrel to most, a saint to others, who “vanished into the night” in western New York in 1843 only to appear some time later in Nauvoo, Illinois. There, though previously a professed atheist, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by none other than Joseph Smith. Strang, Harvey allows, may have come there in order to bilk Latter-day Saint settlers, as he had apparently done to New Yorkers before. However, Strang quickly realized that there was more to be made by being a religious leader, and when Smith was killed, Strang asserted that he was heir to his throne. Brigham Young prevailed, but Strang kept up his campaign while establishing an offshoot of the church first in Wisconsin, then on an island in Lake Michigan, fulfilling his “plans to lay claim to a kingdom all his own.” Strang, “always alert to the possibility of making a buck,” took that kingship seriously, siting his kingdom at a place that steamers plying the Great Lakes would dock in order to refuel on the island’s abundant wood. He also horned in on other businesses, including the fishing trade that had sustained inhabitants before Strang’s arrival, along with several hundred of his followers. The conflicts that Strang sowed right and left—e.g., he condemned others for adultery while abandoning his repudiation of polygamy and taking multiple wives—soon caught up with him. Harvey notes that the end of Strang’s realm coincided with Herman Melville’s writing his great novel The Confidence-Man, and the author hazards that there could have been no better model for a character who outshone P.T. Barnum in profiting from gullibility, if only for a short while. Harvey’s narrative is a page-turning exercise in popular history perfect for fans of Devil in the White City.

Entertaining historical excavation.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-46359-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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