THE REFINEMENT OF AMERICA

PERSONS, HOUSES, CITIES

A historical survey of the idea of gentility as expressed in architecture, furnishings, fashions, manners, and taste from about 1690-1850. Bushman (History/Columbia; co-editor, Uprooted Americans, 1979) has the rare gift of seeing the theoretical—the bases of class, power, and culture—in domestic, ordinary, specific detail and behavior. The author begins with the years 1700-90, tracing the origins of gentility to the aristocratic and worldly courts of Europe, and observing its sudden emergence in the refinements of colonial centers—rural and urban—in mansions, gardens, pianos, parasols, carpets, penmanship, courtesy books, personal hygiene, and social discipline. He then considers the years after the Revolution, from 1790-1850, during which gentility became ``vernacular,'' democratized, identified with respectability—a middle-class standard associated with domesticity, religion, and the work ethic, with its major site being the ubiquitous parlor. Although gentility was exclusive, censorious, judgmental, and artificial—an elitist ideal inappropriate for an egalitarian society (a point made by John F. Kasson in Rudeness and Civility, 1990)—it contributed immensely, Bushman says, to American life: to architecture and the decorative arts but also, in fulfilling the many needs of aspiring gentility, to manufacturing, trade, commerce, education, and, especially, literacy, since the models for American refinement often were found in the novels of sensibility. The Americanization of gentility was, Bushman contends, the translation of a secular, leisured, and public ideal into a domestic one that encouraged religious practice and the work ethic. Resourceful, lucid, sweeping—a true and refining pleasure. (Photos—130—not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 1992

ISBN: 0-394-55010-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more