A stirring account of courtroom collisions at the intersection of law, morality and politics.




Examination of three prosecutions under the notorious Fugitive Slave Act.

The Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause required successive congressional action to ensure its enforcement, legislation that culminated in the Compromise of 1850’s Fugitive Slave Act, intended to reconcile the nation. It did just the opposite. By federalizing procedures of capture and rendition and by criminalizing interference with or failure to help officials carrying out the law, the statute exacerbated sectional tensions and carried the issue of slavery to the doorstep of northerners who preferred to think of it remotely—if they thought of it at all. Although he alludes helpfully to other incidents, court decisions and political commentary on the Act, Lubet (Law/Northwestern Univ.; The Importance of Being Honest: How Lying, Secrecy, and Hypocrisy Collide with Truth in Law, 2008, etc.) focuses on three trials: 1851’s “so-called Christiana slave riot” in Pennsylvania; 1854’s prosecution of runaway Anthony Burns in Boston, the intellectual capital of the antislavery movement; and 1858’s proceedings in Cleveland against the Oberlin College rescuers, whose home was ground zero for abolitionist practice. With sharp scene-setting in each of these locales, careful attention to trial transcripts, sensitive etchings of the people enmeshed in the statute’s operation and a clear command of the legal maneuvering, the author demonstrates how shifting public opinion emboldened attorneys to move from reliance on claims of innocence or fact-based or procedural defenses to a forthright call for judges and juries to invoke a “higher law” that appealed to conscience. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision and the increasingly politicized and publicized prosecutions under the Act all set the stage for Harpers Ferry—and John Brown’s eloquent, higher-law appeal that inspired the North and infuriated the South—and the bloody war that followed.

A stirring account of courtroom collisions at the intersection of law, morality and politics.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-674-04704-4

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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