From a veteran historian of the West, a fine account of early American explorers, a unique group of men who ``could be led but not commanded.'' The mountain men, Utley (The Lance and the Shield, 1993) writes, were a ``mostly illiterate'' bunch of rough-and-tumble entrepreneurs, given to gaudy dress, drunkenness, and, often, mindless violence. Yet over the first half of the 19th century they collected a vast amount of information on the geography of the West, blazing trails across the high plains, the Rockies, the Great Basin, and the Sierra that would eventually bring Anglo settlers across the Mississippi into newly conquered territories. They went, Utley writes, less from noble motives than ``to make money in a pursuit that promised adventure, excitement, personal freedom.'' Still, some of these mountain men were, in Utley's view, aware of their importance to the historical moment: Working to thwart Spanish, French, British, and Russian designs on the vast region, they foresaw that their explorations would open the West to the claims of manifest destiny. Utley offers excellent descriptions of men like Jim Bridger, John Charles FrÇmont, Jedediah Smith, Benjamin Bonneville, Joe Meek, Kit Carson, Old Bill Williams, and Joseph Walker, whose names now dot maps of the West. He also writes easily of what might be called mountain-man culture and dispels a few myths along the way, especially the notion of the trapper-explorer as lone wolf: The mountain men traveled in groups of 40 to 60 men, Utley writes. To ``wander in lonely solitude . . . would have been suicidal.'' Despite their caution, many mountain men died violently, killed by Indians or fellow trappers. Some went gently into history; Utley writes poignantly of Jim Bridger, who became a trader of beaver pelts, horses, and seashells, the last of which ``he did not know how to value.'' A broad, vividly written work of historical reconstruction. (maps and illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-3304-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1997

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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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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