FROM WEST TO EAST

CALIFORNIA AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

This attempt to place California at the center of our national consciousness starts out with great ambition but gets bogged down in an extensive look at Communism in the Bear Flag Republic. Schwartz, a San Francisco journalist and historian, offers brilliant views early on of California's creation first as a division of the Spanish colonies, based on its Dominican clergy, then as an outpost of Mexico, and finally as the last frontier of American ``manifest destiny.'' The Gold Rush and the building of the railroads prefigure the labor battles that dominate most of the rest of the book. Initially, Schwartz's depictions of unions fighting the newspaper industry in San Francisco and the land issues brought to bear by the railroads are lively and compelling. But once this landscape becomes sullied with the Trotsky-Stalin infighting taking place within worldwide Communism, his book starts losing ground. And after Stalin's purge and subsequent murder of Trotsky (via Soviet agents in California, according to Schwartz), he becomes a standard-bearer for the far left. Then, with the injuries of the indefensible Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, Khrushchev's revelations of the atrocities committed by Stalin, and the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Communism is all but destroyed in California. To his credit, Schwartz doesnt ignore the machinations within California that led to Communism's downfall, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (on which Californian Richard Nixon sat). Further, the author is able to shift easily between depictions of life and art, cogently demonstrating the impact of the state's political struggles on the writers John Steinbeck, Frank Norris, Allen Ginsberg, and others. Still, the last 30 years of California history are relegated to a mere 10 pages that cover in only a cursory way several very important historical events. This would have worked better as one volume in a multi- volume project—or as a straight-shooting labor history.

Pub Date: March 10, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-83134-1

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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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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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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