An uplifting historical account of humanitarianism with lessons in this increasingly isolationist time.

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VOYAGE OF MERCY

THE USS JAMESTOWN, THE IRISH FAMINE, AND THE REMARKABLE STORY OF AMERICA'S FIRST HUMANITARIAN MISSION

A historian focuses on a remarkable event in 1847 to illuminate a broader discussion about U.S. aid to other nations.

In his latest narrative history, Puleo (American Treasures: The Secret Efforts To Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address, 2016, etc.) begins in Ireland. As a famine caused by failed potato crops led to countless deaths, diseases, homelessness, and desperate measures to leave the country, American officials and other citizens were captivated by the plight of the Irish. However, at this time, the U.S. government had never become involved in what today would be termed “foreign aid.” Furthermore, the logistics of how to gather money and food and how to transport the donations to Ireland were daunting—but not insurmountable. Puleo includes many exemplary individuals within the narrative, but there is one clear hero: ship captain Robert Bennet Forbes, an experienced seafarer who was inspired to do what he could to ameliorate the death and pestilence destroying Ireland. Throughout, the author portrays Forbes as unselfish in his motives, a man seemingly without ego. There is no doubting Forbes’ heroism, as he left his family to risk his life to serve as captain of the USS Jamestown, a refurbished warship filled with lifesaving foodstuffs. The voyage from the Boston port to the Irish coast involved more than two weeks of rough waters and other perils. As Puleo shifts the focus periodically to Ireland, he writes about Theobald Mathew, a minister who tried to maintain hope among a dying populace while pleading with authorities in England to demonstrate compassion. While the narrative thread of English-Irish hostility could be a book on its own, the author effectively shows how “the events of 1847 have served as the blueprint and inspiration for hundreds of American charitable relief efforts since, philanthropic endeavors that have established the United States as the leader in international aid in total dollars.”

An uplifting historical account of humanitarianism with lessons in this increasingly isolationist time.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20047-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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

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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

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