An able balance of scholarly precision and readability.



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 19, 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...


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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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