Spellbinding account of growing pains in an often-gullible society.



Total immersion in the Jazz Age, viewed through its key personalities.

Flappers, the Model T, F. Scott Fitzgerald, bootleg hooch, and free love all parade by as expected, but historian/biographer Miller (Star Spangled Men, 1998, etc.) zeroes in on the White House, who got elected to it, and why, as crucial in shaping the modern America of the title. First he sketches the dark period leading up to the Roaring ’20s, a time of postwar chaos and turmoil that seems strangely contemporary. (Politicians distracted the nation from labor unrest and racial violence with the massive 1919 Red hunt, during which one man was arrested simply because “he looked like a Bolshevik.”) The election of Republican Warren G. Harding in 1920 was the first in which women could vote, its results the first ever broadcast by radio, and the ensuing creep of corruption by his “Ohio gang” cronies set records of its own, culminating in the Teapot Dome oil-lease scandal. One in three Americans worked on farms in the ’20s, Miller notes, and 44 percent of the population was still counted as rural in 1930. The real story of the decade, he neatly sums up, “is one of constant struggle between city and countryside for the nation’s soul.” Harding’s death in office ushered in “Silent Cal” Coolidge, whose legendary frugality and business-boosting policies (including four rounds of tax cuts that made him a model for then-teenager Ronald Reagan) created a wave of prosperity doomed to crash in the nation’s worst depression. Even Miller’s asides are gemlike, as when he mentions that Rin Tin Tin, leading movie star at mid-decade with his own limo and chauffeur, collapsed during a workout and died in the arms of blonde bombshell Jean Harlow.

Spellbinding account of growing pains in an often-gullible society.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-85295-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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