IN OUR OWN WORDS

EXTRAORDINARY SPEECHES OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY

The last hundred years” worth of our most historical, powerful—and progressive—verbal addresses. The co-editors have very different qualifications. Senator Torricelli (D-N.J.) gives newsworthy speeches to congressional committees and the media, while Carroll has edited a similar centennial anthology, Letters of a Nation (1997, not reviewed). Arranged by decade, the collection features such early speakers as Teddy Roosevelt riding rough on Muck-Rakers, a Tammany Hall defense of “Honest Graft,” W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington previewing Malcolm X (“revolution is hostile”), and the inimitable Mark Twain advising girls to smoke, drink, and marry “in moderation—[for instance,] only one cigar at a time.” Humor is rare here, but the collection offers the drama of hearing both sides of the debates over Prohibition, the League of Nations, evolution in the schools, isolationism, McCarthyism, segregation, the success of the U.S.S.R., the Vietnam war (three to one against), the women’s movement, rock lyric warnings, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill brouhaha, and gun control. Despite the apparent symmetry, there’s a plurality of voices for progressive, liberal, and even anarchist causes. Two Native Americans and several blacks denounce white racism; anarchist Emma Goldman derides patriotism; Helen Keller, Paul Robeson, and Jane Fonda laud Communism; a Berkeley student champions free speech; Cesar Chavez and others have a grape to pick with Labor; and we hear supporters of social spending, prison reform, abortion, AIDS victims, drug addicts, and sundry politically correct minorities. The eulogies for FDR and the Kennedys are apolitical, but Democrats are over-represented and Republicans (from Goldwater to Nixon and Agnew) demonized. Ending the book with the eloquence of Edward R. Murrow (who’s here), Tom Brokaw remarks on the century that “it is not enough to wire the world if you short-circuit the soul.” For a progressive Democrat, the sound bites of the century.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-56836-291-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Kodansha

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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