A COUNTRY WITH NO NAME

TALES FROM THE CONSTITUTION

A hothouse crossbreed of American history, ultraconservative constitutional exegesis, and softcore porn. No, really. In this long, weird book, Pulitzer Prizewinning biographer De Grazia (Machiavelli in Hell, not reviewed) tarts up his scholarship as ``twelve talks'' delivered by fictional English scholar/babe Claire St. John to her 19-year-old American tutee, the equally fictional Oliver Huggins. St. John lectures, rhapsodizes, titillates; Huggins, more Yahoo than Yankee, asks doltish questions (e.g., ``What makes a man like Sam Adams tick?''), bites her ear, and refrains from raping her when she shows up for a tutorial in her nightgown, barefoot and rain-drenched. This dumb framing device is too intrusive to ignore, but it does offer some relief from the author's smug, overblown analysis of the US Constitution. De Grazia's thesis is that the Constitution is ``null'' as a social contract, delineating no specific nation, no consolidated national government, no one ``people'' to whom it applies. On these crucial terms the Framers simply ``fudged,'' De Grazia argues: John Calhoun was right (the Constitution merely describes majority rule), Lincoln was wrong (there never was a ``union'' to preserve), and Chief Justice John Marshall was wrong (the Supreme Court does not have the right to pass on the constitutionality of congressional laws). In what is arguably the book's most obnoxious section, De Grazia casts St. John as ``Portia,'' a ``friend of the court'' lecturing Marshall on the folly of his seminal opinion Marbury v. Madison. All of this boils down to a fairly pedestrian paean to states' rights. What is notable here is the jaw-dropping, pretentious combination of retro-Anglophilia (``England is a nation, but the United States are not a nation''), chutzpah (``Let's revise the Star-Spangled Banner. Right now!''), and schoolboy hormones (``Huggins watched the rise and fall of her chest. . . . He thought wildly of [the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution]. Of equal prominence!'')

Pub Date: March 31, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-41977-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

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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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