AMERICA AT 1750

A SOCIAL PORTRAIT

Professor Hofstadter, who died in 1970, intended this to be the first section of a three-volume "general interpretive synthesis of the findings of the past generation of professional historians" in American studies, to quote his proposal to the publisher. Modeled on Halevy's England in 1815, the overview moves, not through narrative, but back and forth from the particular to the conceptual and quantitative general. As social history the book is excellent. Its subjects are population and immigration, white and black servitude, the churches, religious life, and the Great Awakening, and, under the heading "The Middle-Class World," the socio-economic character and direction of the colonies at mid-century. The chapter on immigration and population is extremely well done with its emphases on the character of the labor force, on land tenure systems, and on economic development. What Hofstadter calls "the anguish of the early American experience" is delineated in the chapters on servitude: in 1750 the largest stream of new Americans was black slaves. What he terms "a middle-class society governed for the most part by its upper classes" is examined with a sure grasp of regional differences and, again, a valuable emphasis on economic relationships (the flow of rural surplus, land speculation, international trade). The class conflicts and the reluctant impulse to independence of the 70's are left unspecified: had Hofstadter written his chapter on colonial politics perhaps this would not be the case. The most detailed section deals with religion, the "huge body of religious indifferents," and the Awakening (which is insufficiently related to conjunctural developments). Throughout Hofstadter insinuates the European origins and counterparts of secularism, indenture, the Awakening, indeed the whole bloom of Protestant nationalist capitalism. As he intended, both "students of history at various levels" and "the general educated public" will gain much from Hofstadter's appreciation of the rich, liberated aspects of the "unregulated bourgeois order" and his stress on the fact that it was "a harsh world for those without land, skill, and freedom." Had he never written anything else, we would greatly regret his loss.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1971

ISBN: 0394717953

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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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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