An able balance of scholarly precision and readability.

RICHMOND BURNING

THE LAST DAYS OF THE CONFEDERATE CAPITAL

An absorbing study of the Confederacy’s last hours and a city in ruins.

The Southern secession was no monolithic enterprise, to judge from this account by Virginia historian Lankford (The Last American Aristocrat, 1996). Richmond may have been the capital and nerve center of the Confederacy, but it was crawling with politicians and citizens who despised Jefferson Davis, feckless generals and disgruntled privates, and not a few members of the “Unionist underground,” including a southern belle who “placed one of her free black servants as an agent in Jefferson Davis’s household.” Southern apologists have long suggested that someone from this large group of well-motivated suspects set the ravaging fire that greeted conquering Federal forces in the spring of 1865. Lankford clears up the question definitively: the great fire was set after Davis had fled the city by Confederate soldiers seeking to deny the enemy the last of the rebel army’s supplies, and though it has passed into legend as a monumental catastrophe, it destroyed only some ten percent of the city—enough, however, to provide newspapers with the “pictures of devastation that people in the North craved.” Lankford’s smoke-filled pages are dense with well-chosen anecdotes, such as his portrait of an exasperated Robert E. Lee at Appomattox catching sight of the disgraced General George Pickett and spitting out, “Is that man still with this army?” The author examines and dismisses a few myths along the way, including the why-can’t-we-all-get-along saw that Lee later prayed with an African-American gentleman in a gesture of national healing, an episode evidently invented to hide “differences that cannot be masked by the warm sepia tone cast over our great national trauma by popular books and documentary films.”

An able balance of scholarly precision and readability.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-670-03117-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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