The first of three volumes- and this one five years in the writing- this bids fair to be a definitive history within the limitations. Shelby Foote has apparently set himself. A novelist, he has viewed the facts exhaustively, through primary sources, contemporary writing and the recreation of the most gifted of the historians and biographers. Quite evidently, it is war as it was manipulated by the men in key positions, for almost consistently one sees action as he sees it through the generals and their lieutenants. There is little here of cause and effect. The telling starts with the two political and ideological leaders:-Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln; and with the contretemps which precipitated the firing on Fort Sumter. Nothing is here of the years of tension and the factors that went into the making of war. Nor- throughout the crowded first two years- is there anything more than passing mention of the repercussions on the citizens above and below the line. He has taken the men; he has followed the tortuous pattern of war, throughout its sprawling lines, war on land and war on water; he has recounted the battles, distilling the essence by the novelist's creative processes, seeking, he says, as a novelist the same truth sought by the historian. Because of these limitations of substance and handling, this cannot be a definitive history without statement of the boundaries. Furthermore, while one concedes an extraordinary objectivity in view of his background as a Mississippian, his gift for respecting the opponent worthy of his steel, he is unfortunately all too ready, it seems, to accept and lay stress on such rumors and canards as, for instance, Grant's alcoholism and anti-Semitism, and some of the less palatable aspects of Lincoln's personality and shortcomings. But he cuts some of the glamour away from some of the Southern heroes, too. This first volume, ending as it does shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, leaves the reader aware that while history writes the South's defeat, the first two years wrote a balance of victory — with the writing on the wall only faintly decipherable.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1958

ISBN: 0394746236

Page Count: 866

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1958

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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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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