A well-executed, comprehensive overview of some of America’s earliest settlers.




In an ambitious debut, former investment banker and Financial Times writer Bunker sets out a new history of the Mayflower pilgrims.

Most stories about the settlers focus on the period after 1620, when the pilgrims first landed in the New World to found Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. Bunker takes a distinctly wider view, with about half of the narrative concentrating solely on the Puritans’ British origins and their history in Europe before they made their fateful trip. In these early sections, the author makes convincing arguments disputing the conventional notion that the small town of Scrooby was the center of the early Puritan movement, pointing out that the movement was spread across a wide area. In a discussion of King James I of England, who actively loathed the Puritans, Bunker includes a graphic description of the monarch’s 1625 autopsy, which he uses to make a sharp point about how the king saw Puritanism as nothing more than a disease. The last part of the book deals largely with the Puritans’ life in the New World and how they managed to survive. Unsurprisingly, given his financial background, Bunker also deals with an array of economic issues—in one instance, he touches on how one Mayflower investor smuggled alum, a powder used in fabric dying, to recoup his losses—but he handles these sections with a light touch, never bogging down in statistics. Indeed, the author’s good judgment in choosing such details is the main strength of the book. Readers will be drawn into the Puritans’ early history by Bunker’s generous, accessible prose style, which is maintained even in analyses of finer points of politics, economics and religious thought.

A well-executed, comprehensive overview of some of America’s earliest settlers.

Pub Date: April 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-26682-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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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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