The Frémonts’ story remains compelling, even when manhandled by a maladroit biographer.

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PASSION AND PRINCIPLE

JOHN AND JESSIE FRÉMONT, THE COUPLE WHOSE POWER, POLITICS, AND LOVE SHAPED NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA

Western historian Denton (Faith and Betrayal, 2005, etc.) offers a revisionist treatment of the fearless Pathfinder and his talented, ambitious wife.

History has unfairly maligned John and Jessie Frémont, the author argues. Both were attractive, charismatic figures: bright, highly educated and articulate. The “passion” of the title alludes to the Frémonts’ very affectionate 50-year marriage and to their commitment to various social and political causes, including abolition. The “principle” lies in their refusal to compromise those core convictions, even when wealth and political power hung in the balance. Denton begins with their initial meeting, described in swooning phrases that would make an apt additional verse to “Some Enchanted Evening.” Indeed, as she retreats in time to summarize her principals’ pre-swoon biographies, the author’s florid prose seems overly colored by the 19th-century sources she consulted (from which she might profitably have ascertained the correct usage of words like “fulsome” and “sojourn”). Denton also repeatedly and unnecessarily quotes from other biographers and historians, sometimes on simple matters of fact. The facts themselves are intriguing. John, the offspring of a dashing French refugee and a Virginia woman who may not have been divorced from her first husband, was 11 years older than Jessie when their son was born in 1813. Jessie was the daughter of aristocratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who disapproved so strongly of her suitor that they wed secretly. Together or apart—they were separated for long periods—the Frémonts made a formidable team. They were ambitious, cultivating relationships with some of the most celebrated political and cultural figures of the century. (They once summered with Longfellow and the Whittiers.) He trusted her implicitly and sent her on missions of enormous significance. They made and lost fortunes in gold-mining and railroad speculation—and very nearly won the White House in 1856, when John was the newly formed Republican Party’s first presidential candidate.

The Frémonts’ story remains compelling, even when manhandled by a maladroit biographer.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-59691-019-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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