A BRIEF HISTORY OF AMERICAN CULTURE

Reworking a book first published abroad, Crunden (American Civilization/Univ. of Texas at Austin) provides readers in these United States with a useful overview of their cultural history. The narrative presents American creative endeavor as gradually increasing in scale and growing more integrated into the world. Crunden (American Salons, 1992, etc.) begins with ``local culture,'' looking in turn at Puritan Boston, Enlightened Philadelphia, and the Virginia of the Founding Fathers. Discussing the subsequent era of North, South, and West, he shifts his emphasis from culture's religious and political dimensions toward the fine arts. Especially strong pages treat Washington Irving and John James Audubon. Somewhat scanting the Civil War, Crunden moves quickly to a discussion of the national culture that found progressives and pragmatists tempering capitalist excesses. Mini- biographies—e.g., of William and Henry James, of Alice Hamilton- -convey much information. Paradoxically, the emergence of international modernism crowns Crunden's narrative of the specifically American. Charles Ives and Frank Lloyd Wright, we find, were following European leads by formalizing indigenous national styles. The author further gestures toward an apotheosis of the American with a final section on ``cosmopolitan culture.'' A profile of William F. Buckley Jr. nicely encapsulates the emergence of a ``conservative hegemony,'' while an examination of T. Coraghessan Boyle's fiction as exemplary post-60s literature works surprisingly well. Crunden represents contemporary academic thought by rehashing David Lehman's denunciations of Paul de Man and followers—this is a letdown in the wake of his superb account of transatlantic intellectual exchange around the time of the Second World War. But this history aspires to start, not finish, debates over coverage; its risky choices work to stimulate rather than to conceal. Leavening common information with uncommon insights and skillfully managing—without directly addressing—the difficulties of its mission, Crunden's work should provoke fine conversations on what Americans might want to say next.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-55778-705-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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