A compelling examination of the long, divisive road to America’s emergence, in 1919, as “the most formidable power in the...




A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals America’s evolution into nationhood.

In a revisionist view of 19th-century America, Hahn (History/New York Univ.; The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom, 2009, etc.) examines eight decades of politics and culture punctuated by the 1860s conflict he calls the War of Rebellion. That war, he writes, was one among many other rebellions involving Indians, abolitionists, slaves, and disgruntled political groups that questioned federal authority. Hahn’s expansive, authoritative history synthesizes published works that comprise his 50-page bibliography and draws as well upon archival material. He mounts a persuasive argument that nationhood was not a concept shared by the many disparate states and territories, nor by its politicians. Although the Colonies broke from British imperialism, empire, not nationhood, served as a compelling economic and political model, as the country stretched west to California and south to Mexico, with tentacles into the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Caribbean basin, Cuba was coveted for annexation. Hahn identifies roiling political tensions between the two major parties. Whigs, who evolved into Republicans and maintained strongest support in the Northeast, Midwest, and urban South, focused on developing the domestic economy and favored the exercise of federal power. Democrats, supported by Southern slaveholders, “stood for supremacy of state and local authority” and favored “aggressive geographical expansionism.” Indeed, Hahn says that the political identity of the South “developed alongside theories of empowerment that focused on states and households.” The author details the “costliest, most divisive, and most politically vexing” war with Mexico that resulted in the acquisition of Texas and the dubious purchase of the Louisiana Territory, which Thomas Jefferson had no constitutional authority to buy. Abraham Lincoln dared to articulate the “language of nation” at a time when states had affinity, at most, to a region. Hahn’s prose is sometimes burdened by overly long, clause-laden sentences, but his first-rate scholarship will appeal to knowledgeable readers.

A compelling examination of the long, divisive road to America’s emergence, in 1919, as “the most formidable power in the world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02468-1

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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