A stirring book that explores numerous aspects of racism in Alabama and the nation as a whole.

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HE CALLS ME BY LIGHTNING

THE LIFE OF CALIPH WASHINGTON AND THE FORGOTTEN SAGA OF JIM CROW, SOUTHERN JUSTICE, AND THE DEATH PENALTY

An examination of an infamous 1957 conviction of a young, black Army veteran for the murder of a white police officer that more broadly delineates the struggle for civil rights.

In addition to digging up significant details on this important but little-known case, Bass (History/Samford Univ.; Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the "Letter from Birmingham Jail", 2001) seamlessly weaves in a larger history of civil rights. On July 12, 1957, when James “Cowboy” Clark stopped black motorist Caliph Washington in the excessively corrupt city of Bessemer, Alabama, a struggle ensued. Clark ended up dead, and Washington fled, soon to be captured in Mississippi. Did Washington intentionally shoot longtime officer Clark during a struggle over Clark’s gun, or could the struggle be considered self-defense due to Washington’s fear that Clark intended to murder him out of racial hatred? Since the Alabama court system wanted to display at least the veneer of justice to the outside world, Washington went to trial. However, he received second-rate lawyering and faced an all-white jury. While on death row, Washington won a new trial due to courtroom irregularities. A second jury convicted Washington, who returned to death row. Under normal circumstances in Alabama, Washington would have been executed quickly at that juncture. However, the newly elected governor, George Wallace, despite his renown as a segregationist, felt uncomfortable with the death penalty, so he granted Washington reprieve after reprieve, which led to a second overturning of the guilty verdict. A third jury, no longer all-white, also convicted Washington. Appellate maneuvering continued for years until, finally, a judge ordered Washington’s release in 1971. The state refused to drop the case, but a fourth trial never occurred, and Washington lived an exemplary life of faith and family until his death in 2001. Throughout a skilled recounting of Washington’s travails, Bass offers extended riveting passages about the broader battle for civil rights in Alabama.

A stirring book that explores numerous aspects of racism in Alabama and the nation as a whole.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63149-237-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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