SIERRA CROSSING

FIRST ROADS TO CALIFORNIA

An academic study of the quest by explorers and later entrepreneurs to find a way over California’s mountain wall. Geographer Howard discusses a critical development in the history of California, the building of the first roads across the Sierra Nevada, tall and snow-blocked mountains that, even at their easier passes, still required days and even weeks to traverse. (The Truckee Pass, where the Donner party met its doom and where Interstate 80 now cuts through the Sierra, was especially difficult, and as Howard notes, —the paralyzing effect of heavy snowfall remains a threat to trans-Sierra transportation even today.—) After surveying the geography of montane California, Howard looks into the careers of the 19th-century explorers who first established various routes over the Sierra, notably Jedediah Smith, Joseph Walker, and John Charles FrÇmont, and at the rush to build true roads after the US government opened competitive bidding for mail delivery (Wells Fargo eventually won) and Congress passed the Wagon Road Act of 1857, a precursor of the modern federal highway system. Howard offers many interesting asides, some of them buried in endnotes, about the intense rivalries between Golden State cities and individuals to profit from the road-building enterprise. He also notes that with the advent of transcontinental railroads many of the earliest road builders— efforts were undone, largely because the railroads had —the resources to blast and tunnel— their way over mountain grades that would have been impassible for horse-drawn wagons. Though well written, this book, born of the author’s doctoral dissertation, will appeal only to a specialized audience. Even so, it is a solid if modest contribution to 19th-century Western history. (22 b&w photos, 3 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-520-20670-3

Page Count: 203

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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