Ambitious historical examination of what it means to be an American.

THE AMERICAN FUTURE

A HISTORY

The noted British historian examines current American attitudes through the lens of U.S. history.

Schama (History and Art History/Columbia Univ.; The Power of Art, 2006, etc.) has studied Dutch, French and English cultures, among others, during the course of his career. In his latest, he looks at the United States, where he has spent a large portion of his life. The book serves as a companion piece to his 2008 BBC documentary series of the same title; in both, Schama connects contemporary feelings about war, democracy, immigration and prosperity with people and events from American history. In one effective section, he profiles several generations of the Meigs family, whose members served their country in nearly every major war. His take on the complicated subject of American religious fervor is particularly nuanced and refreshing. Schama can be guilty of overblown phrasing, as when he writes, “The Angel of History...watches powerlessly as the wreckage rises into the sky.” He also tends occasionally toward sweeping pronouncements, as when he claims, “I can tell you exactly, give or take a minute or two, when American democracy came back from the dead”—Jan. 3, 2008, when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. More often, though, he attenuates his prose, using well-chosen historical examples to make subtle and insightful points, such as linking post-9/11 anti-Muslim bigotry to past nativist movements. The book contains some wonderful moments: President George W. Bush confiding that anti-immigration congressman Tom Tancredo is “an idiot”; Schama embracing his dry cleaner, whose son had been killed in Afghanistan. The author’s fascination with and affection for the United States shines through, and he provides many engaging insights into the nation’s past and future.

Ambitious historical examination of what it means to be an American.

Pub Date: May 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-053923-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18

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