An engaging and sensitive exploration of America's detour from the promise of equal protection.



A triple biography illuminates the birth of the Jim Crow era.

On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only railway car in New Orleans. Plessy could and often did pass for white; his arrest had been arranged to create a perfect Supreme Court test case of Louisiana's segregationist Separate Car Act. The result was catastrophe. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) held in sweeping terms that "separate but equal" services were acceptable under the federal Constitution, cementing segregation in public and private facilities across the South for another 60 years. The appeal was directed by Albion Tourgée, a famous New York lawyer and civil rights crusader. The court's opinion was written by Henry Billings Brown of Michigan; the sole dissenter was John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky. Longtime Washington Post senior editor Luxenberg (Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret, 2009) investigates the multiplicity of American racial attitudes in the latter half of the 19th century through biographies of these three men, and he carries it off in style. Throughout this period, Americans in all regions grappled with questions involving relations between the races, including distinctions between social and political equality and the difficulties of determining a person's race. The author's subjects well encapsulate his theme. Tourgée was a northern firebrand who lived for years in Reconstruction-era North Carolina, facing down the Ku Klux Klan. Harlan's views evolved from his slave-state origins to a vision of limited racial equality. Brown remained subject to the pervasive casual racism that informed the nation's progress from slavery to apartheid in the service of the comfort of the white majority. Luxenberg brilliantly tackles a difficult task, presenting his solidly researched work clearly and with a restrained objectivity. The racial conflicts and conundrums emerge organically from the colorful stories of each of the principals, with the tragic ending always in view.

An engaging and sensitive exploration of America's detour from the promise of equal protection.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-23937-9

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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