There probably have been too many books written about the Civil War—James Thurber once suggested that fines be levied on...

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A HISTORY OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA

Historian Davis (Lincoln’s Men, 1999, etc.) offers a thoughtful social and political history of the Confederacy, without the usual emphasis on armies and battles.

The secession of the Confederate states from the US in 1861 was an odd sort of revolution. A small group of Southern autocrats and firebrands, who controlled political activity in their states using the forms and rhetoric of democracy, started the Civil War to preserve a hereditary aristocracy and a semi-feudal way of life. However, the strong sense of state identity and distrust of central authority that gave birth to the secessionist movement fatally undermined the Confederate government, and personal antagonisms between President Jefferson Davis and his many enemies added to the disunity. Moreover, the very process of waging the Civil War dramatically transformed Southern society. As the author explains, social chaos disrupted the legal system, Southern families experienced ever-worsening economic privation, and disloyalty to the Confederacy became commonplace. Rationing of commodities like cotton and salt represented government intrusion into private affairs that should have been antithetical to secessionists jealous of their property rights. Davis (Director of Programs/Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Virginia Tech.) points out that by war's end military necessity compelled Confederate leaders to consider the conscription of black troops, which made nonsense of the racial justification for slavery. Ironically, he observes, the comprehensive ruin of the Civil War left Southern oligarchies intact at its end. Thus, ominously for Reconstruction, postwar Southern power remained in the hands of the few rather than the many.

There probably have been too many books written about the Civil War—James Thurber once suggested that fines be levied on authors of new ones. Davis, though, admirably sheds some new light on an old topic.

Pub Date: April 7, 2002

ISBN: 0-684-86585-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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