THE DAY BEFORE AMERICA

CHANGING THE NATURE OF A CONTINENT

Blending paleontology and environmentalism, MacLeish (The Gulf Stream, 1988) explores the nature of America as it was before Europeans arrived. After briefly sketching the variety and complexity of the indigenous human societies (whalers in the Pacific Northwest and mound builders in Ohio, as well as the more familiar denizens of plains and forest), the author jumps backward in time to an ice- covered continent on which no human had ever set foot. South of the glaciers lived an astonishing variety of now-vanished creatures: mammoths, saber-toothed cats, camels, giant beavers, ground sloths, and predatory flightless birds. At some point—at least 15,000 years ago, possibly 50,000 or more—human beings arrived, and the continent began to change. How much of the loss of Pleistocene fauna was caused by hunting is a matter of debate, but MacLeish's point is clear: Human beings have always had an impact on their world. Plant life also changed, most obviously in the domestication of such crops as corn, squash, beans, and other staples of Indian agriculture. After a simplistic look at Europe on the eve of the discovery of America, the author traces the impact of colonization not only on the native population (hit hardest by diseases to which it had no resistance), but on an ecology that seemed at first to offer boundless riches. He traces the rise of the lumber industry, the conversion of the prairies into farmland, the arrival of a voracious consumer society. Finally, he tries to see what the future may offer, finding no easy solutions for the unsettling possibilities posed by population growth and environmental degradation. MacLeish occasionally descends to facile Europe- bashing, but he has a noteworthy ability to place modern issues in the broad context of geological time. Unusually rewarding for readers who want to see beyond the familiar and the comfortable.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-46882-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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 Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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