An absorbing look at the first American presidency, in which Washington emerges not as the familiar George Stuart icon but as a fallible human being—one whose personal qualities nonetheless made him the quintessentially great man of American history. In focusing on the prosaic facts of Washington's presidency rather than on his better-known, and more heroic, Revolutionary War career, Smith (The Harvard Century, 1986, etc.) shows that the first President was not only the admirably self-sacrificing Cincinnatus of legend but a politically judicious statesman as well. The challenges facing the new President in 1790 (when Smith begins his account) were enormous: The young country lacked military power and political traditions, and it was financially impoverished, riven by ideological and sectional rancor (epitomized by the enmity between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasure Alexander Hamilton), and beset by hostile European powers and Indian tribes. Under these circumstances, Washington had to invent the Presidency, restore the nation's credit, and give the republic a measure of respect at home and abroad—all while avoiding involvement in Europe's turbulent politics. Although the first President, aided by vigorous and brilliant associates like Jefferson and Hamilton, succeeded in achieving these goals, his true greatness, Smith shows, lay in his resistance to the insidious enticements of power: ``By voluntarily relinquishing office at the end of two terms, Washington forced a world more accustomed to Caesar than Cincinnatus to revise its definition of greatness.'' Washington emerges here as vain, often humorless, and painfully reserved, but Smith demonstrates that this leader's qualities of wisdom and self-restraint helped give the new nation an enduring tradition of democratic government. A fine, highly readable, and nicely balanced account.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-52442-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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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

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