FLOATING WEST

THE ERIE AND OTHER AMERICAN CANALS

Charles Dickens, during his American lecture tour, compared traveling by canal to ``a whirlwind''; but actress Fanny Kemble found the whole experience to be ``a humiliation.'' So reports Bourne (The Red King's Rebellion, 1990), who, in this history of the Erie Canal and its rival waterways, paints a panoramic picture of 19th-century America that's as perceptive as it is entertaining. After a slightly monochromatic start in which he sketches in the background—the construction of Louis XIV's monumental Canal du Midi, the trial-and-error methods used in building the rudimentary Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts, the opposing Federalist and Jeffersonian approaches to social and economic policy-making in the infant republic—former American Heritage editor Bourne brightens his canvas with sprightly anecdotes, and offers numerous insights into the varied forces that shaped the American psyche. He persuasively argues that, with the flowering of the canal system (and, a bit later, the railroads), ``for the first time people-in- motion were recognized as what American life is about.'' Among scores of other topics, Bourne investigates how the end of slavery in New York State and the burgeoning Irish immigration contributed- -in the form of a labor force eager to work, even at skinflint wages—to the canal system's rapid expansion. The author's survey of radical religious groups—the Mormons, the Millerites, John Humphrey Noyes's Perfectionists—that coalesced during this socially unstable period is a model of concise yet resonant research. And, in a subtly reasoned passage, he points out how, in choosing names for their upstate New York villages (Troy, Carthage, Utica, Rome), the ``Yankee-Yorkers'' hoped to evoke the classical Golden Age that they were convinced they were re-creating in the wilderness. Solid scholarship, leavened with wit and charm: a delightful excursion into the American past. (Fifty b&w photographs.)

Pub Date: June 8, 1992

ISBN: 0-393-03044-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1992

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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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