Charmingly full of life, if not always coherent.




Hot-blooded history of a hedonistic Jazz Age resort where celebrity and mob culture mingled within gawking distance of the sensation-seeking masses.

Historian Vanderwood (Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint, 2004, etc.) seems to have enjoyed himself writing this account of Agua Caliente, a gambler’s and drinker’s paradise that rose in response to Prohibition America—and which was conveniently located just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico. With its high-class pretensions and low-brow diversions, Agua Caliente became a primary model for Las Vegas, a place where ordinarily “good” Americans could play hard at being bad. Its life was brief—less than ten years passed between its opening in mid 1928 and its unceremonious closing under orders of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1937—but what it lacked in duration, it made up for in color and influence. Vanderwood weaves into the resort’s history one of its most notorious moments, a botched robbery of an Agua Caliente money car as it made its way from Tijuana to a bank in San Diego. The incident left two dead and one of the mobsters wounded. Using as primary sources detective magazines, newspaper articles and trial transcripts, the author discourses on the rise of Eastern-style organized crime in Southern California. The tales of the hoodlums, molls, tax cheats, bribers, corrupt officials, would-be ambassadors, harlots, starlets and free-spending movie moguls whose lives intersected around this moment in history—little operas that Vanderwood relates, often in whimsical, hard-boiled prose—vividly conjure the pre-technicolor world of 1930s Hollywood melodramas. This is a book about much more than one place and time—race, fortune, law and (dis)order, border politics and economics all figure in the story of Agua Caliente.

Charmingly full of life, if not always coherent.

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4702-6

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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