THE HAUNTING OF AMERICA

FROM THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS TO HARRY HOUDINI

Intriguing but insufficiently skeptical account of the paranormal in American history.

The tone of this purported history is set by the introduction, in which the authors ask readers to consider “the provocative possibility of extraterrestrial intervention and influence” on Earth’s earliest humans, suggesting that various religions’ legends may have been real-life paranormal phenomena. Birnes and Martin, who have collaborated on two previous volumes (The Haunting of the Presidents: A Paranormal History of the U.S. Presidency, 2003, etc.), parade a series of supernatural-themed events from the 1690s to the early 20th century. The stories are interesting enough and give the reader a taste of how widespread belief in the paranormal was at one time in American culture. However, the authors relate some rather dubious tales without passing judgment on their credibility, a disingenuous sort of neutrality that will drive away serious students of history. Several pages, for example, are devoted to George Washington’s vision of an angel at Valley Forge; only afterward, without much comment, do Birnes and Martin acknowledge that the story does not appear in any of Washington’s own voluminous journals and correspondence, but comes from a sketchy second-hand newspaper account by one of the general’s aides. In a long section that documents the Spiritualism fad of the 19th century, the authors strongly imply that medium D.D. Home, whose supposed achievements included levitation and clairvoyance, may have been the real deal, skating over considerable skepticism about him expressed then and now. Readers will find some diverting tidbits involving such famous figures as Abraham Lincoln, Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison, but those who want a more critical guide to this subject should look elsewhere.

Shallow and unpersuasive.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1381-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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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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