With ample quotes from English letters and diaries, Snow ably brings out the humanity of his subjects.

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WHEN BRITAIN BURNED THE WHITE HOUSE

THE 1814 INVASION OF WASHINGTON

Veteran journalist Snow (To War with Wellington, 2010, etc.) novelistically recounts the British invasion of 1814.

Written from the British point of view, the characters come off as true gentlemen who were polite as they emptied warehouses, burned down homes and ravaged the countryside. In fairness, they only burned private property if the owners put up a fight. Worn out from fighting Napoleon in Europe, England was intent on finishing off this bit of nastiness in its former colony. Britain’s commander, Vice Adm. Alexander Cochrane, was after prize money in addition to revenge for his brother’s death at Yorktown. Naval leader George Cockburn, after savage behavior in the Chesapeake, joined with army leader Robert Ross to lead the attack on Washington, D.C. On the American side, horrendous leadership and coordination ensured a quick defeat. John Armstrong, a useless secretary of war, was President James Madison’s first error. His second was political appointee William Winder, a man detested by both Armstrong and Secretary of State James Monroe. The loss at Bladensburg, despite the bravery of Joshua Barney’s men, was humiliating, and the complete lack of a standing army or any defensive plan for the capital left it for the taking—and burning. That was the tipping point for the Americans. As the capital and White House burned, men raced to fortify and protect Baltimore. The survival of Fort McHenry after intense bombardment ended the battle with little loss. Our national anthem recalls the raising of its oversized U.S. flag. “The raising of the star-spangled banner,” writes the author, “became a symbol of [a] new determination. James Madison and his successors unashamedly abandoned their reservations about defense. They signaled their support for strong regular armed forces, and set the country on a path of expansion on land and at sea.”

With ample quotes from English letters and diaries, Snow ably brings out the humanity of his subjects.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04828-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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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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