A nuanced, warts-and-all portrait that offers much to ponder in this election year and beyond.

UNDERSTANDING AMERICA

THE ANATOMY OF AN EXCEPTIONAL NATION

An illuminating effort to explain America to the world—and to itself.

The notion of American exceptionalism—the idea that America is different from the rest of the world—has long been a shibboleth among historians and a magnet for yahoos and jingoes. Editors Schuck (Law/Yale Univ.; Diversity in America: Keeping Government at a Safe Distance, 2003, etc.) and Wilson (Public Policy/Pepperdine Univ.; Thinking About Crime, 1975, etc.) restore it with the wise observation that America is at least unusual in its ability to be “deeply divided, witlessly vulgar, religiously orthodox, militarily aggressive, economically savage, and ungenerous to those in need, while maintaining a political stability, a standard of living, and a love of country that is the envy of the world—all at the same time.” The contributors examine the mechanisms, institutions and folkways that allow this curious condition. One is the tripartite division of federal power, especially the autonomous power of Congress, even with the efforts of the current administration to expand executive control. Another is the concurrent complexity of government and broad distribution of decision-making authority. Yet another is the unusual interplay of governmental and nongovernmental agencies to produce government goods and services, which accounts for the military-industrial complex so evident in Iraq today. The citizenry, for its part, expects little from the government by way of economic security, which is in contrast with Europeans, who demand that government assure a decent standard of living. The contributors turn up some surprises and offer some pointed notes on current controversies. For one, the military is far from scraping the bottom of the barrel, though that is a common perception. “It still recruits its enlisted personnel overwhelmingly from high school graduates of middling to high intelligence scores on the standard tests and recruits its officer corps from college graduates,” writes Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen. And, notes Schuck in an essay on the subject, “recurrent political efforts to limit immigration almost invariably fail,” for all the rhetoric surrounding the matter.

A nuanced, warts-and-all portrait that offers much to ponder in this election year and beyond.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58648-561-0

Page Count: 720

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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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

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