A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler’s finesse.

OF ARMS AND ARTISTS

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION THROUGH PAINTERS' EYES

How American art inspired a young country.

This is an impressive, ambitious undertaking, to tell the stories of five painters—Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart—while simultaneously showing how they were all interrelated and doing this against the complex history of the American Revolution. Staiti (Fine Arts/Mount Holyoke Coll.; Samuel F.B. Morse, 1990, etc.) begins his intricate narrative in January 1779. While the war waged, the Continental Congress approved funds to have Peale create a life-size portrait of “His Excellency General” George Washington. They felt strongly that art was “capable of arousing potent emotions in times of intense political change.” Staiti shows how these painters’ works “illuminated the era” when the population was in desperate need of inspiring images, rituals, and myths. Peele would go on to paint more than 100 more portraits. Copley, the “greatest painter in colonial America” and a loyalist, made many such contributions as well, until he felt he had to flee to London to protect himself and his family. West, known in England as the “American Raphael,” was born in Pennsylvania and served for more than a decade as King George III’s court painter. Peale and other Americans were students of his. He had to wait until he could express his patriotic sentiments in paintings, and his “luscious” painting of the Paris peace treaty signing was never completed. Trumbull, nearly blind in his left eye, served as Washington’s aide-de-camp and painted memorable battle scenes. His magnum opus is the majestic Declaration of Independence. Impulsive, witty, profane, and manic, Stuart, writes the author, was the “most talented of them all.” His numerous portraits of the Founders were conceived with a “brilliant talent never before seen in America.” Throughout, Staiti provides insightful, in-depth discussions of many key paintings, and the book is lavishly illustrated with illustrations and color plates.

A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler’s finesse.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-465-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

more