The fifth and concluding volume in Gay's reexamination of the 19th-century middle classes, this one focusing—with the author's customary grace and intelligence—on their attitudes toward the arts. The taste of the Victorian bourgeoisie is frequently disdained as conventional and sentimental, their involvement in activities like collecting paintings and attending concerts dismissed as efforts to enhance their status. Gay, emeritus professor of history at Yale, amply demonstrates that this is a gross oversimplification. ``Avant gardes could not have made their way without massive bourgeois patronage,'' he reminds us, profiling pioneering collectors like Russian merchant and Matisse patron Sergei Schukin, and French customs clerk Victor Chocquet, who championed CÇzanne. In chapters on the development of local symphonies, the rise of criticism as a profession, the differing blends of private enterprise and aristocratic patronage that financed arts institutions in various European and American cities, Gay does not deny that status-seeking played a part, nor that some bourgeois liked safe, insipid art. He simply wants his readers to recognize ``the rich diversity of bourgeois experience in the pleasure wars roiling the Victorian and post-Victorian arts,'' just as he asked them to reconsider the clichÇ of all Victorians as sexually repressed in The Education of the Senses (1984), this series' first volume. Like its predecessors, Pleasure Wars is plausibly arranged rather than coherently organized, and Gay has a habit of announcing some obvious points as if they were revolutionary insights. But he is never less than readable, and he astutely weaves individual stories into a rich, complex tapestry. Sensitively depicting his 19th-century burghers grappling with the increasingly democratic nature of culture—and its funding—he reminds us that these issues are still contentious today. An appealing close to an unfailingly stimulating series that has more than fulfilled Gay's professed aim: ``to rise above melodrama to the far subtler drama that is history.''

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 1998

ISBN: 0-393-04570-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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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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