An important addition to the growing number of diaries, memoirs, and other primary source materials on the Civil War made accessible to the nonspecialist reader. Sears (To the Gates of Richmond, 1992, etc.) has skillfully edited 19 pocket diaries that the ``good soldier Haydon,'' a 27- year-old lawyer from Decatur, Michigan, painstakingly wrote, transcribed, and sent home to his father from 1861 to 1864. Haydon was a college graduate who read The Atlantic and quoted scraps of poetry to combat the boredom of army life, but the real value of his daybooks is historical and emotional rather than literary. Rising from sergeant to lieutenant colonel, Haydon saw action at or on the edges of both Bull Run battles and at Fredericksburg, more seriously during the ``Seven Days'' on the Peninsula. In 1863, he joined Grant at Vicksburg and was badly wounded leading an assault at Jackson, Mississippi. Unless you're a memoir-gourmet, Haydon's diaries aren't easy reading: Descriptions of the weather and of the awful, inadequate food become repetitious. Nonetheless, there's scarcely a day's entry that doesn't contain some stirring observation or moving reflection, all conveying a genuine mid- Victorian sensibility preserved amid unparalleled carnage. Haydon was obsessed with doing his duty, not only for the Union but in order to be seen as dutiful. (At one point, he writes that there's so much false illness that ``good soldiers sometimes suffer much pain and inconvenience rather than incur the suspicion of shirking duty.'') Readers who would otherwise wonder at troops like those who pinned their names to their coats for the purpose of identifying their corpses as they prepared to run into the cannon's mouth at Cold Harbor will here receive the authentic feel of the era's moral imperative. Survivor of many battles but weakened by his wounds, Haydon died of pneumonia in 1864, while on furlough. In this book of his own making, aided by Sears's introduction and deft chapter transitions, he at last receives his true memorial.

Pub Date: July 21, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-66360-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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

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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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