A worthwhile, though hardly groundbreaking study of the emotional bonds forged between the average Union soldier and “Father Abraham” Lincoln. Historian Davis (“A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy, 1994, etc.) borrows copiously from the correspondence and diaries of Union soldiers to argue that Lincoln was revered by his troops as a kindhearted father figure. Although most of Lincoln’s face-to-face encounters with Union troops were brief, he left an enduring impression on them. Lincoln’s mesmerizing eloquence, combined with his melancholy face, convinced the average soldier that “he suffered as they did . . . he, too, was a casualty” of war. Davis vividly re- creates the comic first impression most soldiers got of their president—a gaunt, tattered Lincoln saluting them from an undersized horse during military review ceremonies. While the soldiers enjoyed lampooning Lincoln’s ugliness and backwoods manner, they sensed implicitly that he cared deeply about them. Lincoln constantly voiced appreciation for the average Union soldier, which did wonders for flagging military morale, especially after the carnage of Gettysburg. Lincoln possessed a common touch that even the lowliest private could feel. Of course, Lincoln’s popularity among the troops was tested. The Emancipation Proclamation angered thousands of white, working-class soldiers who feared economic competition from freed slaves. Lincoln’s removal of General George B. McClellan was another test. When Lincoln faced McClellan in the 1864 presidential election, however, the troops voted overwhelmingly for “Father Abraham.” Davis meticulously recounts Lincoln’s efforts to gain the army fair pay, humane living conditions, and adequate medical care. In one delightful chapter, the author describes Lincoln’s policy of freely granting leniency to soldiers convicted at courts-martial. Lincoln was particularly merciful to the young, the stupid, and the inebriated. It’s no surprise, then, that Union soldiers immortalized him in his death. While Davis’s insights aren’t particularly new, his examination of Lincoln from the viewpoint of the average Union soldier confirms “Old Abe’s” undeniable genius as a wartime leader.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83337-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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...


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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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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