Despite its flaws, a lively and enjoyable collection.

AMERICAN PLACES

ENCOUNTERS WITH HISTORY

Essays on historic and ever-changing American locations, celebrating the career of an innovative Oxford University Press editor, Sheldon Meyer.

The festschrift, an anthology compiled in honor of a particular scholar, is an awkward format, and despite the conscientious efforts of Leuchtenburg (History/Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; The Supreme Court in the Age of Roosevelt, 1995, etc.), this assortment shows some of the predictable problems of the genre. Although Leuchtenburg confides that some authors found the personal essays challenging after decades of rigorous scholarly objectivity, others apparently had no trouble indulging in evidently self-centered or frankly self-indulgent writing, rambling on about their careers or their reminiscences of Meyer in pieces resembling the transcripts of speeches at a retirement party. The volume also includes a few of those wistful first-person meditations in which the author returns to his boyhood home after many decades and finds that it has changed in the interim, inspiring the usual reflections on transience and memory. A gratifying number of pieces, however, transcend the unpromising format to offer substantial information and fresh insights into the history implicit in the American landscape. In “Greensboro, North Carolina: A Window on Race in the American South,” William H. Chafe provides context for the famous 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in. “Illinois’s Old State Capitol: A Tale of Two Speeches,” by Robert Johannsen, brings the Douglas-Lincoln campaign of 1860 to life. Donald Worster makes a powerful case in “The Grand Canyon” for the inclusion of geography and ecology in the study of human history. “A Fan’s Homage to Fenway (Or, Why We Love It When They Always Break Our Hearts),” by John Demos, and “The Polo Grounds,” by Jules Tygiel, are zestful tributes to both baseball and place. The finest essay here, Kenneth T. Jackson’s “Memphis, Tennessee: The Rise and Fall of Main Street,” presents a stirring defense of urbanism and a gentle, hilarious tribute to the pleasures the city offered a teenager in the 1950s.

Despite its flaws, a lively and enjoyable collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-19-513026-X

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2000

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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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