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

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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

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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

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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