An engaging history of admirable episodes from America’s past.



Historian and biographer Brookhiser (John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, 2018, etc.), senior editor of National Review, grounds his spirited argument for American exceptionalism in the idea of liberty.

“We have been securing it, defining it, recovering it, and fighting for it for four hundred years,” writes the author. He chooses 13 public statements, written or orated from 1619 to 1987, which he believes “define America as the country that it is, different from all others.” Although acknowledging the nation’s “dark chapters” of oppression, brutality, and injustice, Brookhiser focuses on men and women who defiantly fought for liberty, offering lively biographical and historical vignettes that set the stage for each of the documents he examines. These include the minutes of the Jamestown General Assembly, which provided that decision-making in the colony would be by vote; the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, a statement of grievance sent to Peter Stuyvesant—“a martinet and a bigot”—to insist on religious freedom; the narrative of the trial of John Peter Zenger, which allowed the press in Colonial America to flourish; the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution; the Gettysburg Address; the Monroe Doctrine, which warned “corrupt, oppressive systems” to stay away from America; and the Declaration of Sentiments formulated by suffragists at Seneca Falls. The author also looks at some lesser known protestations for liberty: the constitution devised by the New-York Manumission Society, a group of “oddball Quakers and Manhattan elitists,” to confront “the injustice done to those among us who are held as slaves” and help them to share in “civil and religious liberty”; Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus”; William Jennings Bryan’s "Cross of Gold" speech; Franklin Roosevelt’s 16th fireside chat, of 1940, which underscored America as “the arsenal of democracy”; and Ronald Reagan’s exhortation to tear down the Berlin Wall. Without liberty, Brookhiser concludes, we can be nothing but “a bigger Canada or an efficient Mexico.”

An engaging history of admirable episodes from America’s past.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-54-169913-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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


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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