It’s hard to imagine a more astute, more graceful guide to a remarkably creative period.

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DANCING IN THE DARK

A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Just in time for our own era’s economic collapse, a literary critic looks back at the unusually rich art of the 1930s.

In this scholarly yet immensely readable study, Dickstein (English/CUNY; A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature in the Real World, 2005, etc.) examines how the artistic culture of the ’30s served a dual function. It helped people understand and cope with the terrible economic climate, and it allowed them to escape, for a while at least, the burden of dark times. The books, music, photos, movies, plays and dances of the period both reflected and influenced the decade’s unique state of mind. These wide-ranging works of art include the novels of John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Henry Roth, and the photographs of Margaret Bourke-White and Walker Evans, which turned an unprecedented spotlight on America’s poor and disenfranchised. Artists like Nathanael West, James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos and F. Scott Fitzgerald “emphasize[d] the limitations and distortions of the American Dream,” even as Cagney’s gangster films and Busby Berkeley’s backstage musicals reinvented rags-to-riches fantasies. At a time when audiences made room simultaneously for social relevance and artistic escape, singers as disparate as Bing Crosby and Woody Guthrie had a place. The big bands of Ellington and Goodman, the romantic comedies of Hawks and Capra, the dancing of Astaire and Rogers and the music of Porter and Gershwin all supplied a touch of class for the masses. Whether discussing Citizen Kane or Porgy and Bess, the poetry of Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams or Robert Frost, Faulkner’s unique achievement and odd relation to the period, the films of Cary Grant or the elegance and energy of Art Deco, Dickstein always has something smart and lively to say. His scintillating commentary illuminates an important dimension of a decade too often considered only in political or economic terms.

It’s hard to imagine a more astute, more graceful guide to a remarkably creative period.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-07225-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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