Raphael’s exceptional history of the beginning years of the United States should be required reading, especially in an...

MR. PRESIDENT

HOW AND WHY THE FOUNDERS CREATED A CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Renowned historian Raphael (Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, 2011, etc.) delivers an authoritative biography of the Constitutional Convention and the herculean task faced by the representatives.

The author paints a picture of heroes—Edmund Randolph, George Mason, James Wilson and James Madison, among others—noting that the founders developed a government presupposing that George Washington would be the first chief executive. They believed Washington would set a nonpartisan tone and establish precedents for the office. Knowing the first man at the helm would be a good one, they then had to imagine successors who might not be quite as upright and accommodating. In order to show how their views evolved as they toiled, Raphael explores the founders’ writings in chronological order. The office developed slowly and with fervent discussions, and many wished the executive branch to be a committee out of fear of another monarchy like the one they had just rejected. They struggled with questions of popular or legislative election, term of office and re-eligibility before they ever began to worry about the powers the executive would wield. The question of direct election by the people was rejected out of hand, and selection by the senate would inextricably tie the executive to it. The electoral system involved the legislators while successively filtering the people’s wishes. The fear of a strong executive played equally against the notion that the aristocratic senate would overpower the government as they debated the division of powers. Remarkably, by the fall of 1787 two branches of the government were up and running, only awaiting the appointment of judges to complete the third.

Raphael’s exceptional history of the beginning years of the United States should be required reading, especially in an election year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59527-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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