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

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

more