A thorough and lively chronicle of a shameful episode in American political and entertainment history.




At the start of the Cold War, anti-communist fervor focused on Hollywood.

In October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by a “dapper martinet,” New Jersey Congressman J. Parnell Thomas, held nine days of public—and much-publicized—hearings to investigate alleged Communist infiltration in Hollywood. Among the 41 witnesses were movie stars, studio heads, producers and directors, and writers and critics, all caught on newsreel and broadcast on radio, riveting the public’s attention. Doherty (American Studies/Brandeis Univ.; Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, 2013, etc.) brings considerable authority to his detailed account of the hearings, featuring colorful portraits of the large cast of characters, some of whom were willing, if not eager, to cooperate; others, called the Unfriendlies, were decidedly hostile. Lead-off witness Jack L. Warner insisted that no hint of communist propaganda ever made its way into movies, even if some in Hollywood were members of the Communist Party. Among the few films HUAC cited as suspect was MGM’s sentimental love story Song of Russia, released in 1944, when Russia was a valued ally. The steely Ayn Rand, called as an expert witness by virtue of having lived under communist rule, was adamant that the movie reflected the studio’s communist sympathies, creating “a picture of how favorable life was under a totalitarian Soviet.” The suave Adolphe Menjou, who charmed onlookers—as well as the interrogators—hinted at subtler infiltration: “a crafty actor could inject a subversive sentiment into a film with a gesture, a sidelong glance, or an arched eyebrow.” Outrage and anger over the hearings was swift: A group of glamorous stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye, formed the Committee for the First Amendment to protest infringement of civil liberties. Their presence in the hearing’s gallery drew enthusiastic fans. Although RKO chief Dore Schary asserted that competence, not political views, should determine hiring decisions, after the hearings ended, studio heads caved in to pressure, firing and blacklisting unfriendly witnesses.

A thorough and lively chronicle of a shameful episode in American political and entertainment history.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-18778-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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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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