Horn engagingly explores a history that, perhaps surprisingly, extended into the 1960s, when the renamed island became a...

DAMNATION ISLAND

POOR, SICK, MAD, AND CRIMINAL IN 19TH-CENTURY NEW YORK

Somber study of a dark, little-known episode in the history of New York, when Riker’s Island wasn’t the only warehouse for the condemned.

It makes good sense, on reading Horn’s (Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, 2013, etc.) latest, why the 2005 horror film Dark Water found so appropriate a setting on New York’s Roosevelt Island. In the late 1800s, writes the author, that small chunk of land, barely 150 acres, saw four kinds of unfortunate denizens: the mad were shunted off to the island’s Lunatic Asylum, the destitute to the Almshouse, the vagrant or indigent to the Workhouse, and the seriously criminal to the Penitentiary. Each offered its own version of a living hell, and despite reports by early whistleblowers, not much was done to improve the condition of the inmates. “You can have no idea…what an immense vat of misery and crime and filth much of this great city is!” exclaimed a social reformer who worked on the island, and Horn’s account paints an exacting portrait of just how true that was—and how summary the judgments against the lower class could be. Of interest to students of Foucauldian history is the author’s contrast of what was then called Blackwell’s Island with facilities for the well-to-do, such as the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum near Central Park, with its well-appointed libraries, plush chairs, and expensive artwork. No such amenities were to be found on Blackwell’s, which saw appalling levels of disease, starvation, child mortality, and other ills. Despite such demerits, as Horn writes, the rate of escape from the island was low and the level of recidivism, particularly among younger inmates, high: “At ten the boys are thieves,” noted one official, “at fifteen the girls are all prostitutes.”

Horn engagingly explores a history that, perhaps surprisingly, extended into the 1960s, when the renamed island became a site for mixed-income housing.

Pub Date: June 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-576-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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