Reconstructed first-person dramatic monologues by 13 characters in the first act of our nation's greatest tragedy. Novice playwrights learn that conflict makes for good theater but exposition doesn't. When the information that must be conveyed is as complicated as the Dred Scott decision or the Kansas-Nebraska act, it takes a consummate dramatist to hide the mechanics that make the stage magic work. Oates is an accomplished biograher and historian (A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War, 1994, etc.) but a neophyte at stage business. Poor Jefferson Davis and Stephen A. Douglas especially end up having to fill in so much information that they sometimes sound more like readers of footnotes than on-stage characters. However, Oates is also obviously a quick learner. He acknowledges his debt to Hal Holbrook's performance in the dramatic monologue Mark Twain Tonight and Julie Harris's portrait of Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, noting that they proved that real-life characters can be a theatrical match for those drawn from a playwright's imagination. Oates has some wonderfully colorful, eloquent, and dramatic characters to work with, plus 40 years of action in which dramatic tension builds inexorably toward the monumental climax of the Civil War. There are moments of great theater in these interweavings of actual writings with imagined ruminations, in the doomed messianism of the abolitionist John Brown and the slave rebel Nat Turner, in the violent upheaval foretold by the great orator Henry Clay, and especially in the dueling monologues of Davis, Douglas, and Lincoln. If Oates's approach to history seems a frivolous tour de force at the beginning, by the end it seems the best possible device to prove his point: that the North and South eventually saw the world so differently that they stopped talking the same language. One eagerly awaits the promised sequel about the war years.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-016784-X

Page Count: 528

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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...


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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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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