Dallek (History/UCLA; Lone Star Rising, 1991; Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism, 1984; etc.) thoughtfully finds some common denominators of effective presidential performance. Why have some presidents become perennial heroes and others bywords for failure? Dallek delineates five qualities uniquely important to presidential leadership: vision, pragmatism, consensus, charisma (or the appeal of personality), and trust. Dallek then shows how the greatest presidents, like Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, have displayed these traits in responding to national challenges as diverse as establishing the infant United States, waging the Civil War, and ending the Great Depression. Dallek also shows presidents failing by displaying an absence of these virtues: Herbert Hoover, for instance, lacked pragmatic flexibility, and John Quincy Adams failed to achieve consensus for his aim of advancing the prosperity of American society. To some extent, Dallek recognizes, the traits of success are contradictory and temper one another (a visionary whose vision leads him too far ahead of the popular consensus will fail, for instance); effective presidential leadership, he suggests, consists of maintaining a delicate balance. Assessing success or failure is also a matter of balance: The greatest presidents have suffered policy failures, sometimes major ones. Also, Dallek acknowledges that the qualities of presidential greatness are ultimately more elusive than his checklist of virtues would imply: Assessments of presidents while in office, have been notoriously inaccurate (Dallek cites disparaging evaluations by contemporaries of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR). Recognizing the ever-changing nature and complexity of the president's task, Dallek concludes that ``the study of how past presidents made large gains and suffered major defeats gives us little more than a useful general guide to executive actions.'' A provocative analysis of success and failure in the nation's most difficult job. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-7868-6205-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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