Fresh, endlessly fascinating, and altogether extraordinary.

MR. JEFFERSON’S LOST CAUSE

LAND, FARMERS, SLAVERY, AND THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE

A sweeping, continent-wide reinterpretation of early US history from Kennedy (Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson, 1999, etc.), who replaces individualist heroes such as Daniel Boone with economic movements, transcontinental forces, and unintended consequences.

For example, writes the former director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nation of yeomen, landholding farmers. What he got—what he allowed, in fact—was a corporatist country of plantation owners beholden to the hated England. When Napoleon arranged for Jefferson’s purchase of the vast Louisiana territory in 1803—a sale he was not legally authorized to make, nor Jefferson to accept—his aim was to assure American dominion over the interior of North America, thus thwarting English efforts to keep a flanking presence on the Mississippi River. What happened, though, was that Jefferson, for puzzling reasons that do not reflect well on him, allowed fellow members of the slaveholding planter class that dominated early American politics to dictate the terms of settlement in the new lands of the Louisiana Purchase, thereby rendering his vision of a land settled by smallholders and eventually absent of slavery all but impossible—and, in the bargain, sowing the seeds of civil war. Kennedy offers a portrait that replaces nation-states with contending corporate forces: “There were more non-Americans fighting for American independence at Yorktown,” he writes, “than native-born, and only a minority of the opposing troops under the command of Cornwallis were born in England,” while the Spanish and even Indian nations were congeries of many ethnicities bonded by ever shifting alliances. Thematically rich and full of subtle arguments, Kennedy’s study forces a reconsideration of accepted views. It couldn’t come at a better time, given the soon-to-be widely commemorated bicentenary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Fresh, endlessly fascinating, and altogether extraordinary.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-515347-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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